Irvine vote to abolish living wage ordinance met with boos, ‘shame on you’

After contentious discussions at the last two City Council meetings, Irvine leaders voted 3-1 to formally abolish the city’s living wage ordinance.

Put on the agenda by Councilwoman Christina Shea last month, the proposed repeal drew sharp criticism during public comments at the May 26 council meeting. The second reading Tuesday night drew similar public participation, with two clergy members and a Spanish-speaking custodial worker with a translator among the 11 people expressing opposition and drawing applause.

The public sentiment, however, did not sway the majority of the panel. The final vote repealing the ordinance was met with boos and loud cries of “shame on you… shame!” from members of the large audience in the council chambers. Shea, Councilwoman Lynn Schott and Mayor Steven Choi voted to repeal. Councilwoman Beth Krom was the lone no vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway absent.

“I think it’s so sad, at a time when the country is moving in one direction, the city of Irvine is moving in a different direction,’' said Krom, who was mayor when the ordinance was enacted. “What makes me even more upset is the city of Irvine will now be held up as a poster child for regressive actions.”

Passed in 2007 under a Democratic-controlled City Council, the ordinance required contractors doing big business with the city to pay a minimum wage higher than state law requires, and extend that minimum wage to employees of the company working throughout Orange County.

Based on the standard of the lowest-paid Irvine city employees, workers for companies with contracts worth $100,000 or more over any 12-month period were required to be paid a minimum of $10.82 per hour with health benefits, or $13.34 an hour without benefits. The state minimum wage in California is $9 an hour with an increase to $10 scheduled for next year.

“This is not about the minimum wage. We are not reducing the minimum wage,” Shea stated from the dais, noting the ordinance covered only 15 city contracts, while more than 65 others are not bound by the living wage guidelines.

“The reason I brought it forward to repeal it is that it’s so unfair to our taxpayers,” Shea said. “What this contract does is add a cost of up to $1.8 million for these contracts that our taxpayers have to pay for so we have to pay for all the other employees in the county. That’s why this ordinance is wrong.”


Irvine Animal Care gets high marks

In other council business Tuesday, the panel received an encouraging report on the Irvine Animal Care Center, which has been addressing administrative issues since last year.

As part of its oversight, the city commissioned JVR Shelter Strategies in December to assess operational procedures and animal welfare. The cost of the review was budgeted not to exceed $100,000.

The presentation was delivered by JVR principal consultant Dr. Jyothi Robertson, a recognized expert in animal shelter care credentialed by UC Davis. Compiled with three other consultants, the assessment offered almost all positive conclusions, with the summation that the center “provides a high level of care for the animals.”

The report says the Irvine facility has exceptionally high live release rates for all animals brought to the shelter; about 95% to 100% for dogs and puppies, 75% to 95% for cats and kittens. Robertson explained the ratio of live release between dogs and cats is typical, and that the center has a significantly higher rate of success compared to similar municipal shelters.

Likewise, the study indicates the center has a much lower rate of euthanasia compared to other shelters. Concerns by former shelter employees and volunteers over unnecessary animal destruction were raised last year, leading to the city investigation and the resignation of the shelter’s top administrator and chief veterinarian.

“I did not see any indications of inhumane practices during either of my visits,” Robertson told the council.

She said a lack of written procedures and processes are a concern, as are a lack of oversight and structure in the volunteer program. The report recommends the city hire a full-time volunteer administrator to manage the nearly 300 volunteers that are vital to the shelter’s success.

“The change in process takes time,” Robertson told the council. She said by the time she was commissioned in December “it was already headed in that direction, it was just how it was being implemented.”