The Half Moon Bay City Council approved an ordinance that would set the city’s minimum wage to $15 by Jan. 1, 2021, outpacing the state’s planned increase by about two years. After hearing from several representatives from Rocket Farms who advocated for a delay, council members decided to wait to raise the minimum wage until next year. This is a change from the council’s December proposal to institute the changes by summer.
More than 80 people employed by Rocket Farms attended the Jan. 21 city council meeting. Earlier this month, Rocket Farms President and Chief Operating Officer Nick Bavaro sent a letter to all five council members stating his concerns about raising the minimum wage. Bavaro said he would rather follow the schedule outlined by the state under Senate Bill 3. The state’s legislation would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2022 for employers with 25 employees or more and by 2023 for employers with 25 employees or fewer. Because the state’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour, it prevails in California.
Rocket Farms is one of the city’s largest agriculture employers, but many of the employees are not local residents, according to Bavaro. He said the timing of the increase would be detrimental to his operation, as he has already budgeted for the fall of 2021.
Rocket Farms owner Charles Kosmont said the business was looking to open a local “Agricultural Excellence Institute” in partnership with the University of California, Davis. The plan was to create a program to build a modernized greenhouse, farm worker housing and a production facility. However, he said if the city passes its ordinance, it could compromise the plan and his business as a whole, because the extra costs could require Rocket Farms to relocate or close.
Some restaurant owners also spoke against raising the minimum wage because they feel they don’t have enough time to prepare.
Owner of It’s Italia restaurant Betsy del Fierro asked the council to postpone the decision on the ordinance until more research is done.
While council members acknowledged the concerns brought up by Rocket Farms employees, they also said they are aware of the need for living wages for families in Half Moon Bay.
“I do not think government should wait for timing that works for businesses,” Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said. “…. We’re not doing this because we’re against the agriculture business. We’re aware it is very complex landscape in terms of public policy but we have to take care of people.”
In response to business owners’ concerns, the city council decided to move back the wage increase from summer 2020 to the start of 2021, but said they remain dedicated to addressing this aspect of affordability.
“I am unwilling to put a stop on this,” Councilwoman Deborah Penrose said. “…I do understand everyone here is trying to make it work. We all want to be here.”
After hearing the direction from council, Bavaro said he is not yet sure how this will affect the business.
“I need to do the math and figure out the total cost and what this is going to mean for us,” he said. “...after what we went through (at the council meeting), is this the right place for our operation? Does this community really want agriculture? I am just baffled.”
Meanwhile, advocates for the low-income workers say delaying the increase in minimum wage until next year continues to place a burden on families that are struggling to make ends meet.
“Latino families, farm workers and food servers are the backbone of our community, and they are the last ones to get raises,” said Belinda Arriaga, founder of the Half Moon Bay nonprofit Ayudando Latinos a Soñar. “One year is a long time for our families to continue to wait.”
The City Council will consider final adoption of the minimum wage ordinance at the Feb. 4 meeting.