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Belmont Minimum Wage Lags Behind Neighbors

Low wage jobs and auto-oriented streets abound in Belmont, California. Photo: Google Maps

On Tuesday October 24, the Belmont City Council discussed but took no action on raising its local minimum wage sooner than the state of California. Mayor Charles Stone, Vice Mayor Douglas Kim, and City Council member Davina Hurt all urged the city to reach $15/hour as soon as practical, while City Council member Warren Lieberman urged caution and supported a slower increase exempting small businesses. City Council member Eric Reed was absent.

Belmont City Manager Greg Scoles recommended various schedules for raising the minimum wage, lagging behind neighboring San Mateo and Redwood City by up to three years to reach $15/hour. The minimum wage in Belmont would reach $15/hour in 2020, 2021, or 2022 according to the City Manager’s proposals.

The public was clear that higher wages are badly needed, and urged the council to take action.

“If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation every year since it was established by the federal government, it would be over $20 an hour,” said International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers representative Greg Brown at the meeting. “The Belmont cost of living is 56 percent higher than the state of California.”

“It’s no secret that this is one of the most expensive places in the entire country for families to live,” said United Way Bay Area Policy and Government Affairs Director William White. “The city has an immense opportunity before it today to really take a leadership role here in San Mateo County and join cities throughout the Bay Area that have chosen to raise their wage.”

“Please hold yourselves accountable to your community and realize that people living on minimum wage are struggling at the expense of their health and needs of our community,” said resident Michelle Buzbee. “Raising the minimum wage will create positive ripple effects to support youth like me.”

“I support the fastest path to $15/hour as a minimum,” said resident Diane Howard. “I’m concerned about the ability of young people to live here.”

Most of the City Council agreed.

“If we’re part of a fabric of cities in San Mateo County that all try to do the right thing and raise our wages together, any kind of competitive advantage by one city won’t happen,” said Kim.

“This is where government is helpful. This is where government can stand strong and set a baseline,” said Hurt. “I think as a city we need to a part of the solution and not just watch people leave the area.”

“The council is right now acting with their heart, we’ve got all the right intentions, but we don’t know what the hell is going to happen,” objected Lieberman, who argued for exempting small businesses (25 workers or fewer) from Belmont’s minimum wage ordinance altogether. Lieberman admitted that he was the only council member who didn’t want the city council to even discuss the minimum wage, and argued to postpone taking any action until next year.

“I don’t want on my conscience that we ran a small business out of business because we didn’t understand their economics,” said Lieberman.

“Raising the minimum wage does not harm the economy. That is a myth,” countered Stone. “I passionately believe that this region should pay a higher minimum wage than Barstow or Bakersfield. At the end of the day, this is a statement about our values.”

“The real buying power of the minimum wage is just getting back to what it was in 1968. There’s a lot of reasons we have historic levels of wealth and income inequality in this country, but you bet this is one of them,” said Stone.

The City Council appears likely take action to establish a minimum wage ordinance the next time it discusses the issue. That review has not yet been scheduled.