Alameda: Will voting against popular minimum wage increase hurt Spencer’s re-election?

Time and again, especially in the East Bay, raising the minimum wage has proven to be an extremely popular proposition. But unlike, most neighboring cities, Alameda has done little to accelerate the march toward $15 an hour mandated statewide by 2022.

Earlier this month, the Alameda City Council voted to increase its minimum wage to $15 over the next 18 months. However, there was one holdout on the council, Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer, who is in the middle of a difficult re-election campaign against two fellow councilmembers.

In the past Spencer has fashioned herself as a pro-Alameda populist. Her upset victory for mayor in 2014 included the campaign slogan, “Alameda First.” This fall she again dusted off the moniker. But her recent vote against raising the minimum wage, along with strong support for the landlords-backed Measure K, rent stabilization charter amendment is challenging exact which Alameda Spencer is protecting?

While Spencer’s council mates, including mayoral opponents Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Frank Matarrese, extolled the benefits of gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, she instead raised alarms that the move would force small shop owners to go out of business.

“They know their budgets,” Spencer said of Alameda small business owners, “and when they’re telling us that will have to either reduce their employees or possibly go out of biz that is something we need to think about.” The impetus of Spencer’s referral two years go for city staff to study the minimum wage issue was in response to chain stores, which Spencer said this month can absorb the extra costs associated with higher wages.

Furthermore, she said, small business owners will find it hard to grapple with a 37 percent increase in expenses through July 2020 when the rate bump goes into full effect.

The ordinance approved Oct. 2, and officially finalized during a second reading on Tuesday night, raises the city’s minimum wage from $11 an hour to $13.50, starting in July 2019. A year later, it jumps to $15 an hour. Alameda previously operated under the state’s minimum wage, which is scheduled to gradually rise to $15 an hour by 2022. But cities surrounding Alameda have boosted the minimum wage in recent years, including Oakland, San Leandro, and Emeryville.

“It does not give me pride that our city is paying the lowest minimum wage in the Bay Area,” said Ashcraft. “It would be one thing if the cost of living were lower than the rest of the Bay Area, but it’s not.”

Spencer’s vote could leave her opponents with a strong hand, especially coupled with the mayor’s support of Measure K. Similar to minimum wage, Spencer is alone among her council colleagues in backing the charter amendment ballot measure. Her face is even featured prominently on the campaign’s literature. The difference, though, is the rent stabilization issue is far more polarized in Alameda than minimum wage, which typically enjoys wide support across the political spectrum everywhere the proposal has been made.

In addition, a strong indicator that both rent control and minimum wage increases are popular in the East Bay is that proposals for each have won the day either by proponents winning their argument entirely or succeeding after opponents chose to cut their loses and worked for a compromise solution. The former is how Alameda’s minimum wage increase was approved, the latter how the landlords led themselves to Measure K, an effort to stop the bleeding before more onerous rent control comes to the island.

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