An effort to raise Palo Alto's minimum wage received a big lift Monday night when the City Council enthusiastically agreed to pursue the idea.
The council voted 8-0, with Liz Kniss absent, to refer to its Policy and Services Committee a proposal to establish a citywide minimum wage. Palo Alto's new law will likely mimic similar ordinances that were adopted last year in Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
The proposal was made in a colleagues memo from councilmen Pat Burt, Marc Berman, Tom DuBois and Cory Wolbach, who argued that the change is needed because of the high cost of living in Palo Alto. California currently has a minimum wage of $9 an hour, which is set to increase to $10 an hour next year.
"Despite our general affluence, along with high costs of living and working in Palo Alto, we currently have the same minimum wage as low cost regions of California and lower minimum wages than some neighboring cities," the memo stated.
Burt said during Monday's brief discussion that the proposals in Palo Alto and elsewhere are based on a general notion that the Peninsula has a significantly higher cost of living than the state as a whole.
"Yet income from our present minimum wage is significantly substandard from what's necessary for survival in this region," Burt said.
Several members of the public, including a large contingent from the faith community, made the same point. Paul George, executive director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, was among them. He submitted to the council a letter signed by more than 300 residents and 13 organizations.
George told the council that while California's minimum wage is higher than the federal standard, it "still isn't high enough." That's why Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose have started their own minimum wage, he said.
"We need to take this step in our town as well," George said.
The council agreed. Councilman Greg Scharff said the city should closely look at what other cities have done and see what it can learn.
Councilman Eric Filseth also advocated moving ahead with the ordinance. The standard argument against a minimum wage, Filseth said, is that it would destroy service jobs.
"I don't think this is likely to happen in Palo Alto," he said. "I think we should go for it."