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Businesses Launch Living Wage Offensive

By Jorge Casuso

The living wage war is going postal.

A mailer chiding the city for failing to adopt a traditional living wage law is expected to hit the mailboxes of 28,000 voting Santa Monicans this week, The Lookout has learned.

Put out by a newly formed group of businesses going by the name Santa Monicans for a Living Wage, the brochure touts a ballot initiative that would cover businesses with municipal contracts or subsidies.

If approved by voters in November, the initiative, which was filed with the city earlier this month, would override a groundbreaking living wage law being studied by the City Council.

"Nearly three dozen U.S. cities have living wage laws that protect local workers who do city work. Shouldn't Santa Monica be one of them?" the mailer reads. "Despite their good intentions, City Council members are debating a minimum wage ordinance that will not work."

The brochure from "a coalition of businesses and community activists" attacks the ordinance proposed by Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism which the council is expected to take up this summer. The proposed law would require businesses along the coast with more than 50 employees to pay a $10.69 minimum wage.

"The zone minimum wage the council is debating would apply to just a few square blocks," the mailer reads. "The law would exempt city contractors, grant recipients, and the City itself. The Santa Monica City Attorney has written that such a discriminatory law could be struck down in court."

In a staff report to the council in late January, the City Attorney outlined potential legal pitfalls of the proposed ordinance, which covers the area west of Fourth Street north of Pico Boulevard and west of Lincoln Boulevard south of Pico.

"Legal staff believes there is a significant risk that a court would find that the state scheme impliedly preempts municipal minimum wage requirements," according to the staff report. "Moreover, we note that other constitutional constraints, including due process, might apply depending upon the law's specific provisions and their impact."

The initiative must be signed by 9,000 registered voters by May 15 to get on the November ballot.

If approved, it would "repeal existing and simultaneously adopted charter provisions, ordinances, rules and regulations," according to the wording of the initiative.

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