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 aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek