Ben Boyce


Setting the new political tone

Posted on July 13, 2019 by Ben Boyce

I fully expect that the county Chamber or the Golden State Restaurant Association will deploy some local business spokespeople to complain about the new Sonoma minimum wage ordinance. There is a kernel of truth in their assertion. 

 Historically, small business retailers have often relied on wage arbitrage based on the lack of public policy remedies to eke out a profit in a crowded market. The restaurant business has an even worse track record. Predominantly a working class female and immigrant job sector, the food service industry has been a substandard wage sector for decades.

 The legal protections for food service workers’ wages and benefits are thin due to a network of well-funded conservative think tanks, policy shops, and legal/PR lobby firms dedicated to maintaining this cruel and unjust state of affairs. 

 For a sufficiently capitalized business, the standard 1-2% drop in the bosses’ profit margin due to newly enacted minimum wage laws will not fundamentally change the class status of the owners. It is not a free market crisis. It’s just another cost of doing business legally. The new wage standards have been set in the public interest. The accumulation of these minor shifts in policy is the step-by-step process by which we create a vibrant working class economy and widely shared prosperity.

 The fires and floods of the last two years have raised the acute crisis of the mismatch between housing and wages in the Valley to the breaking point. I commend the Sonoma City Council for responding appropriately to an issue of this magnitude. The new city council is getting me re-engaged with local politics. I like their style and their demeanor.

 As long as I stay out of land-use and development issues, I’m pretty safe. Years back, as a naïve, newly-minted grad school MPA, I was shocked at how intense, visceral, and personal local development issues can be. I thought that the evidence in favor of new urban planning, transit-oriented development, raising the wage floor with living wage ordinances, and increasing union density were widely shared political values, certainly among those who call themselves liberals. Wrong. Many fine local folks whom I would even identify as progressive are in fierce opposition to my core views on regional urban planning. So I have been told, repeatedly.

Watching this new council in action encourages me. Mayor Harrington may ruffle some feathers, but she runs a tight ship and gets results. The meetings move along briskly: testimony from staff, expert witnesses, and the public are heard, in great detail, over iterative legislative processes. After final comments, the discussion is closed; the mayor calls for a vote and lets the chips fall according to the merits of the measure.

This is how to get it done. Misuse of public process to defeat by delay erodes public faith in our political institutions. At my peril, I will note that the same caution applies to opponents of proposed developments. Throwing every possible legal log on the tracks to stop a development, even after it is clear that the issue has been resolved under code, is another form of abuse of public process. We have to make decisions and then seek to implement them in earnest. 

 That’s my concept of what good government is about: getting real results that materially benefit the greatest good for the greatest number. That’s the kind of action I like to see in my elected officials. Well done, Mayor Amy Harrington, councilman Logan Harvey, and councilwoman Rachel Hundley. Keep up the good work.  





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