The revised first reading of the contentious Minimum Wage ordinance that would give Emeryville the highest minimum wage in the nation was unanimously approved to move forward last Tuesday. Absent this meeting was the support of labor groups “hired guns” as small business and residents regained control of chambers. It ultimately mattered little though as council, who arguably had their mind made up about this issue before the discussion started, continued to ignore the pleas of small business and even labor groups calling for a sensible, regional approach and they resumed their ambition to etch their names in the history books.
Small Businesses and supporters made a final desperation plea to council to implement a regional approach. The sign below pointing out the competitive disadvantage that Emeryville Small Businesses would be subjected to with their surrounding neighbors paying an estimated $2.41 more per hour by 2019. It’s sad that our country is as polarized as it is but it’s even sadder when neighboring cities can’t even come to a consensus about something they’re mostly aligned on (Is every city in the Bay Area going to in fact have their own unique minimum wage schedule?). This reading of the ordinance with amendments would put approval on track for the June 2nd council meeting and adoption 30 days later on July 2nd.
Council Desperate for Small Business “Poster Child” to support measure
Unlike the Oakland Lift Up Oakland campaign where organizers found a compromise with small business and something palatable with voters, Emeryville Council’s actions received almost no support from the Small Business Community and instead opted to pursue this without voter support. Lift Up was able to recruit small businesses like Actual Cafe & Farley’s to support their measure. Both of these businesses went on record that they could not support the ordinance that Emeryville Council was pushing. Council and Labor desperately needed a poster child for their campaign so they could say “Hey look, business supports this too!” This never materialized. Arizmendi Bakery was in fact the only business that spoke in favor of the ordinance as written. As much as we love Arizmendi, they received nearly half a million dollars in subsidies in the redevelopment era to come to Emeryville and this would not likely have been possible without them. Arizmendi operates under a unique Worker-Cooperative model where employees are partial owners in the organization.
“We have a tempered regional approach and consensus that includes business” noted Mayor Atkin in this recent SF Business Times article. Apparently Atkin’s definition of our “region” refers to San Francisco (Emeryville’s schedule actually surpasses SF’s) and not neighboring Oakland & Berkeley and the business consensus she refers to apparently consists of a single business (The E’ville Eye reached out to Atkin for clarification of which businesses in fact were supportive of this and have not heard back).
Tattler Editor theatrics gone too far?
The main “entertainment” of the night came from unofficial RULE spokesperson/Tattler Editor Brian Donahue who used every opportunity in Public Comment to draw attention to his plight. A riled Donahue claimed to have been “slandered” by small business for this recent piece documenting his alleged “Harassment” of some of them that lobbied for an impact study through an online petition (a pretty bold thing to say for someone who has a column called “The Asshat of the month” dedicated to smearing those in the city he dislikes). Harassment by definition is not automatically a crime unless it meets certain criteria such as being persistent. Emeryville Black Bear Diner co-owner Celina Gonzales provided some levity considering the circumstances. “Mr. Donahue, my condolences” speaking to Brian’s brother Scott who holds a seat on Council. “We’ve all got one in the family I think.”
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Mr. Donahue’s 4 public comment appearances & Council reaction can be watched above.
After the conclusion of the hearing, Donahue proceeded to confront others in attendance outside the chambers calling for their arrest saying that their slandering of him was in fact the real crime in the city. Visibly irritated, Donahue charged back into council to clear his name of any wrong-doing and challenging council to have him arrested if he was in fact guilty of a crime. Mayor Atkin finally had enough when Donahue persisted, utilizing public comment to preach about this in an unrelated agenda item and calling out Councilmember Davis. “You are out of order” chided Mayor Atkin at one point late in the meeting. “Are you going to have me arrested for talking off the subject?” challenged Donahue. “No, I’m going to have you rem … step away so we can conduct our business here”. “Out of control” called out council member Davis toward the end. “No, I’m in control!” fired back Donahue. After trying to further argue his point, Atkin deferred to City Attorney Michael Biddle who reiterated that Public Comment was reserved to the particular agenda item. The awkward showdown persisted for nearly five minutes and appeared to make a mockery of Council.
Does behavior reflect poorly on supportive Councilmembers?
Mayor Atkin moved to adjourn the meeting because of Mr. Donahue’s interruptions but finished the meeting by addressing the issue of Harassment in the city. “I am very disheartened when obnoxious behavior happens in town and it may not be illegal. First amendment right allow people to behave poorly in public comment section of our meetings but to go to private individuals offline, outside of this council chambers and be bullying and harassing while it may not be illegal it’s certainly not desirable and not something that I condone or support in any way.”
Surprisingly, Brian’s affiliated Councilmembers Asher, Donahue & Martinez looked embarrassed but did not speak up and admonish this behavior and have done nothing to distance themselves from these antics (nor has the advocacy group RULE that he is entrenched in). These Councilmembers seem defiant that their affiliation with The Tattler and this behavior somehow reflects negatively on them in any way and ignoring it is the best way to move past it. The issue of harassment in the city has been added to the next Public Safety Committee agenda (Date still TBD). I’m convinced that only in a City as small as Emeryville with almost no mainstream media presence and poor resident engagement could this occur. More of course has been written on the story as the national media continues to court Emeryville. Let’s hope that one reporter out there has the courage to investigate the entire story.
The Council meeting in its entirety can be watched in the feature area of this post.
Further Reading and Resources:
East Bay restaurants adapt to new minimum wage | Berkeleyside.com
A Fascinating Minimum-Wage Experiment Is About to Unfold | The New Yorker
Emeryville passes minimum wage law | CC Times.com
How The Minimum-Wage Debate Moved From Capitol Hill To City Halls | NPR.org