As predicted last week, the City Council donned one of its many costumes to play the roll of Unite Here! Local 11 union negotiator and approve an oversized hotel for the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Seventh Street in return for wage concessions from the developer.
Never mind that the project is out of scale for the neighborhood and an architectural embarrassment, it’s OK because developer Alex Gorby (Maxser and Co., LLC) reluctantly consented to pay some sort of a minimum wage — $12.54 an hour without health benefits, $11.29 an hour with health benefits.
By approving Gorby’s development agreement, current zoning requirements are tossed out and the door is open to a big, ugly hotel pretty much the way Gorby wanted it — seven floors and all.
Extorting developers into accepting wage standards as a “public benefit” introduces a whole new excuse to approve development agreements — not based on the merits of the projects themselves but on political agendas, in this case minimum wage standards.
I can see it now. A raft of approvals for unattractive, traffic-generating developments because developers capitulated on council’s misguided wage demands and promised to hire local high school and college kids. This is social engineering at its worst.
City Hall isn’t content just to move low-income, working-class families here from out of town to occupy the hundreds of units of subsidized public housing it annually creates, it also wants minimal wage guarantees for these folks, too. Talk about a benevolent society.
Councilman Kevin McKeown was dismayed that $15 an hour wasn’t supported by his colleagues and called the lower recommendations further institutionalizing the poor. Read on, councilman.
Apparently nobody on the dais studied economics in college or they would know that when wages increase, people of limited means and on fixed incomes fall deeper into the abyss of poverty. City Council’s mandates won’t eliminate either the “working poor” or “non-working poor.”
Yet, Councilwoman Gleam Davis said that the council “needed to create good paying jobs and eliminate the term ‘working poor’ from our vernacular.” “Good paying?” Eliminate the poor? Amazing.
Minimum wage floors hurt those on fixed incomes such as persons on Social Security, pensions, fixed investments or public assistance whose buying power erodes as higher wages inflate the cost of living.
Council’s minimum wage demand also works against the poorest and most vulnerable members of society — the unemployed. It actually shuts them out of jobs. A recent immigrant or refugee who can’t speak English, is uneducated and has few marketable skills will lose out every time to the applicant who has these abilities — especially for $12.54 an hour.
Setting minimum wage standards and extracting promises to hire local workers and students is unenforceable and totally meaningless. Gorby will fill top positions with the most qualified no matter where they live. As for the low-paying grunt jobs, when was the last time you saw local high school or college students washing dishes, bussing tables or doing hard labor?
It’s also no secret that during the last couple of elections, Mayor Richard Bloom and council members Terry O’Day, Pam O’ Connor, Davis and Bob Holbrook accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Gorby and other developers with projects needing council approval. Labor unions also contributed to the same politicians and McKeown.
So, what’s our “public benefit?” Higher costs of living, more traffic, congestion and yet another tourist hotel — and a mediocre one at best?
More Farmers’ Market bull droppings
The same night City Council was so concerned about minimum wages for the “working poor,” they approved a process requiring Farmers’ Market purveyors to buy a Santa Monica business license in addition to paying stall rent. This added licensing expense, which could amount to hundreds of dollars annually, will be passed on to market customers in higher food prices.
After operational changes to the markets that included booting popular, long-standing suppliers were approved by council in May, 2010, the issue of business licensing had been left unresolved. Last Tuesday’s update clarified licensing and also established policies for dealing with violations of market rules such as drug use, drunkenness, fighting or refusing to certify that produce is home-grown.
Of course, there’s nothing in the new policies that penalize non-produce suppliers who are repeatedly in violation of Los Angeles County health codes. City Hall market supervisor Laura Avery told me recently that there’s no requirement that vendors show up on cold or rainy days.
I don’t know how Avery expects people to patronize the Farmers’ Markets if vendors (who have locked in supplier agreements, by the way) stay home when the weather looks poor. It may be another reason why, a year and a half after the original changes, traffic and business is still off at the Saturday Pico Market.
Many former Santa Monica market-goers shop out of town. I now visit the Sunday morning Farmers’ Market in tony Brentwood where purveyors are ready to do business rain or shine and where produce and goods are surprisingly less expensive than at the Pico Market I formerly patronized.
So, how do higher food prices at Santa Monica’s Farmers’ Markets help the “working poor?” After all of this, I’m waiting for someone to tell us why we should “Buy Local.”
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org