Irvine Council Repeals Living Wage Ordinance

The Irvine City Council Tuesday night decided to repeal an ordinance requiring contractors to pay a living wage to their employees, the latest move by a Republican council majority to roll back the policies of the Democrats who for years steered the city.

Councilwoman Christina Shea, who first raised the issue, said she was primarily concerned with a provision of the ordinance that requires contractors to pay a living wage to all their employees in Orange County, not just those who work for Irvine. That requirement inflates contract costs and has Irvine taxpayers subsidizing workers in other cities, Shea said at a previous meeting.

But instead of tailoring the requirement to apply only in Irvine, the council decided to undo the ordinance altogether. The vote was 4-1, with the sole no vote coming from Councilwoman Beth Krom, the only Democrat left on council from the previous majority.

The living wage ordinance, passed in 2007 when Democrats held the council majority, requires outside city contractors with contracts valued at $100,000 or more to at least match the lowest hourly rate paid to city employees. That equates to $10.82 for employees with benefits and $13.34 for employees without benefits.

According to city staff, 15 city contracts totaling $18.4 million fall under the living wage ordinance.

Critics decried the repeal as a step backward and against a tide of other cities’ attempts to address growing income inequality. Just last week, the Los Angeles City Council approved a $15 hourly minimum wage set to take effect in 2020. San Francisco and Seattle have also passed living wage laws in recent years.

Krom said Irvine hasn’t in the past been a city that “takes a pound of flesh” just to trim costs, and that the savings on city contracts aren’t as concerning to city taxpayers as her Republican colleagues suggest.

“Local taxpayers aren’t sweating this one. They really aren’t,” Krom said.

Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway reiterated his position that the “living wage” ordinance is a misnomer because $10.83 per-hour isn’t enough money for someone to make a decent living in a city that is mostly an upper middle-class, suburban enclave.

Lalloway referred to last week’s meeting, when he challenged City Manager Sean Joyce to explain some “economic basis or fact” that shows why wages should be at their current levels. Joyce said the wages simply mirrored the lowest pay for city employees.

“We should be encouraging as Ronald Reagan said, allowing a rising tide to lift all boats,” Lalloway said. “Instead of trying to impose a wage, a feel-good wage, we should all be seeking ways to have our economy grow.”

In the years since Republicans took control of the council in 2012 – and solidified their hold by flipping another seat in 2014 – they’ve been dismantling many of the Democrats’ previous policies.

Most notably, they’ve launched an investigation into spending on contracts at the Orange County Great Park, a nearly $1.5 million endeavor that revealed dysfunctional management and alleged conflicts of interest that plagued the 1,300-acre project but also made some mistakes early on.

As a result of the investigation, council members are considering filing several lawsuits against former contractors in hopes of recouping millions of dollars for the city.

In another council action Tuesday night, council members directed staff to draft a repeal of the city’s $51 business license tax, describing it as unnecessary. Money from the tax goes to administering the city filings of the businesses.

Lalloway wanted to also dismantle the data collection efforts that are part of the business license program, but his colleagues said the information was useful. Because the program is still in tact but the tax is eliminated, there is a nearly $605,000 hit to the city budget, according to a staff report.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • KateD

    Let’s call this what it really is…race and class war. See, they want all these jobs done dirt cheap, but they sure as H@#$ don’t want they people who do those dirty jobs making enough money that they can afford to live in their white bread little berg. Elitism at its most transparent. *slow clap* Well done, people. You didn’t even have to put on your white robes and masks to make it happen. Your children must be so proud of the neo-Nazis you’ve become. Now have another martini with your Prozac.

  • 6eaie2

    The Irvine conservatives ignored a few basic math lessons: decreasing wages makes workers less stable economically. That, in turn, makes them more likely to seek government assistance in times of need, which, thanks to the Reaganomics Regurgitators on the dais, reduces private entity costs while increasing their profits at the expense of the taxpayers.

  • Joe Viben

    It amazes me how far out of their way some of these council members will go to display their Republican credentials. This initiative did not need to happen, it serves no one but themselves and will probably only end up hurting people that are not their constituents. All so Shea, Lalloway and Choi could ride high into their next Chamber meeting.

  • gaillewis13

    What the city council did was subsidized the business and raised the taxes on you and I. Yes they stopped the business tax but not the business registry. So who is going to pay the $600,000 yearly that the registry costs? You and I with our taxes. Is this the Republican way ….the rich corporations in Irvine no longer pay a meager $51 but now all of us have to pick up the tab. The republicans just raised my taxes and I am furious!!!

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  • Paris Merriam

    You get what you pay for.

  • tinroof

    Well done, Irvine City Council. City councils should be concerned with running the city, not with controlling businesses who serve the city. This is a responsible way to limit the intrusion of government into private business. We need more of this type of action, not less.

    I hope the Irvine City Council will look for ways to cut municipal spending, or at least to limit its growth.

    • kburgoyne

      Huh? When one company hires another company to perform work for them, you don’t think the first company should be able to decide the conditions under which they’re willing to hire the second company? Amazing.

      If a government agency is going to hand out taxpayer dollars to some private corporation, the taxpayers have every right in the world to impose whatever restrictions they want upon that money. And please don’t try to change your statement by switching to saying that’s what the Council did. Yes, that is what the council did, but that isn’t what you said. What you said is when government is handing out taxpayer dollars to a private corporation, the taxpayers should be allowed no say in who receives those dollars.

      The economic system is subservient to the society, not visa-versa. The society does not exist to serve the economic system. The economic system exists to serve the society. Government represents the society. It is not some “other” entity.

    • gaillewis13

      It is the businesses who use the registry not you or I and now they don’t have to pay for it… and I have to pay the $600,000 (cost of the registry) with our taxes. So the businesses want services but not to pay for them. I shouldn’t say that . No company complained about the $51 business license. Again not one business complained. In fact some spoke that they thought it was a bargain as Irvine had the lowest business tax and gave the business the most for this tax. So please answer why do I have to pay for the registry with my taxes? The republicans did not lower taxes for the individual …THEY RAISED TAXES!!!!

      • tinroof

        @gaillewis13 Fair enough, I see your point.

  • jz

    Perhaps the citizens will finally realize the true nature of the GOP, given the Irvine GOP controlled decision, as well as the OC BOS decisions favoring their donors over citizens.

  • dc matthews

    Watch this backfire and near all the workers be shall we say ” INS eligible” like it used to be in Reagan’s Day. Adjusting would have been far smarter.

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  • jcbl

    Congratulations to the Irvine council.

    It’s refreshing to see elected officials act in a fiscally responsible manner and actually vote to respect the tax payers by enabling work to be done at the lowest possible competitive price.

    This is what you and I would do if we were bidding a project for ourselves.

    • kburgoyne

      Enabling work to be done at the lowest possible price is not, per-se, automatically respecting the taxpayers. It may or may not be. Since society does not exist to serve the economic system, but rather the economic system exists to serve society, and government is a representation of that society rather than some “other” entity, then if society, through it’s government, wishes to pay a living wage, then that is the right of the society. If the society does not, then likewise that is the right of the society. The economic system actually has no say in the decision beyond simply responding to the decision.

      BTW… it actually isn’t what I do when handling bids for contracts. I take a LOT of factors into account. The dumbest thing anyone can do is blindly accept the lowest bidder.

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