Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Minimum wage: Half of SJ workers may see boost
By Reed Fujii
California, whose $10 minimum wage is already the highest in the country, would voyage into uncharted economic waters under a plan announced Monday to push the statewide minimum to $15 an hour by 2022.
Gov. Jerry Brown, legislative leaders and labor officials outlined the wage plan in Sacramento, saying it would raise the statewide minimum wage by 50 cents on Jan. 1 to $10.50 an hour. From there, it would rise to $11 in 2018 and subsequent dollar-a-year increases ending at $15 on Jan. 1, 2022.
It would apply to all businesses with 26 or more workers, while giving companies with 25 or fewer employees an additional year to meet each wage minimum.
Raising wages to a minimum $15 an hour could affect more than 100,000 workers just in San Joaquin County, said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at University of the Pacific, which is studying the issue.
More than half of all the jobs in San Joaquin County would be affected by such an increase, he said.
“We’re still working our way through the implications for the economy, but it’s huge,” Michael said Monday. “It’s completely uncharted territory in terms of its impacts and a lot of offsetting positive and negative impacts.”
For example, Michael noted that federal social support payments, such as for food stamps, would likely decline as minimum-wage earners move out of poverty, thus reducing dollars coming from outside the local economy. Other the other hand, those low-wage workers are most likely to put the additional income right back into the economy.
“It’s a big mixed bag,” he said.
The center’s analysis of the impact in the Northern California Megaregion — the Bay Area, Sacramento and northern San Joaquin Valley combined — found agriculture, restaurants and retail would be the most affected industries, while the least affected are utilities, information and finance.
More than 90 percent of farm workers, cooks and restaurant servers have current wages that would be impacted. Of workers in personal care and service, cleaning and maintenance service occupations, more than two-thirds have wages that would also be affected.
The increase will be a burden for the hospitality industry, said Wes Rhea, chief executive of Visit Stockton
Bumping the minimum wage $5 an hour, he said, “That’s a 50 percent increase in everything. That is going to be a large burden.”
But ultimately, that wage cost will be borne by the customers.
“Either the company takes less profit or they have to pass it along to the consumer,” Rhea said.
Farmers, however, don’t have that luxury, said Bruce Blodgett, executive manager, San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation.
“We’re competing in a world marketplace. We’re competing with other states and other countries, for that matter,” he said Monday.
Blodgett said farmers will respond in several ways, by increasing automation or switching to crops that require less labor.
“You’re going to see those that can are going to mechanize every way they can mechanize. Commodities that continue to be labor-dependent are going to be replaced,” he said.
Or agriculture may simply shift to other states and countries.
“Where does the insanity end?” Blodgett said. “Why not $20 an hour; why not $30?”
Pacific’s study found wage impacts will vary by geography. In counties with a heavy dependence on agriculture and tourism, about half of current jobs have wages that would be affected by the legislation. In San Francisco and the Silicon Valley 25-30 percent of workers will be affected. For the 21-county megaregion overall, about 37 percent of existing jobs could see their wages affected.
Younger workers might see the biggest changes, as 77 percent of jobs held by those younger than 25 would be affected by a minimum wage increase. That’s about three times the share of jobs held by those over 35.
Also nearly 57 percent of Latino workers would be affected, compared to 26 percent of white workers, the researchers said.
— Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReedBiznews.
Jerry Brown, legislators reach smart minimum wage compromise
Gov. Jerry Brown, legislators and organized labor leaders were correct to compromise, avert an initiative fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2022 and soften the impact on some businesses, somewhat.
Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Monday proclaimed that the deal would help people at the lowest rungs of the workforce. It will do that, though in this high-cost state, no one will be getting rich at $15 an hour, or $31,200 annually in 2022.
United Healthcare Workers West, an arm of the Service Employees International Union, had gathered sufficient signatures to place one minimum wage measure on the November ballot to raise the wage to $15 by 2021. Other unions including the Service Employees International Union statewide council pushed a separate $15 measure. Given the favorable polling, voters probably would have approved both measures.
Assuming the Legislature approves the deal, neither measure will appear on the ballot. That will save proponents and opponents millions, if not tens of millions, in campaign costs. Don’t pity the political consultants who will forgo a payday. The compromise will provide benefits for much of the rest of the state, especially the 2.2 million people who subsist on the minimum wage.
Under the deal, the wage, which is $10 now, will rise to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2017, for businesses that have 26 or more employees, and $1 each year after that until 2022, when it will hit $15. Businesses with fewer than 26 employees will have an extra year to comply with each step.
Importantly, the deal includes annual cost-of-living increases of as much as 3.5 percent after 2022, depending on the consumer price index. For the first time, low-wage workers will be able to count on a raise as prices rise. Brown said the proposal would permit future governors to delay the increases in economic downturns.
Compromise or not, the deal doesn’t end what has been a perennial issue. Nothing precludes local initiatives that seek to raise the wage beyond $15. And any governor who would try to deny increases in economic downturns would face withering political attacks.
On Monday, Brown said the measure would add $20 million in costs to the coming state budget, and more in years to come. The impact also will ripple through the rest of the economy, adding to upward pressure on costs for everything from child care to restaurants and hotel stays.
Some marginal businesses will be hurt as wages rise. The governor acknowledged that a higher minimum could accelerate mechanization, as larger companies invest in machines to replace humans in the workforce. “Higher wages lead to automation, and automation leads to further investment in the economy,” Brown said.
On balance, the governor, legislators and labor leaders were right to compromise, and avoid making law by the blunt instrument that is direct democracy. A higher minimum wage won’t lift people out of poverty. But it will help people who are most in need of a hand.
New groundwater rules confusing and costly, farm water managers say
By Lewis Griswold
VISALIA – Farm water managers said new rules for managing underground supplies are confusing and potentially expensive.
The upcoming written regulations for groundwater management agencies need major adjustments, central San Joaquin Valley water district managers told state officials.
The regulations are slated to go into effect June 1; the state Department of Water Resources is taking public comment about them until April 1.
Groundwater management agencies will be the local entities charged with maintaining underground supplies.
At the public meeting last week attended by about 100 farmers and water district managers, several expressed worry that groundwater basins in San Joaquin Valley will have multiple agencies, but the kind of smooth coordination among them that the regulations anticipate may be difficult to achieve.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion,” said Mark Larsen, general manager of the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, which is setting up a groundwater management agency for some parts of the Kaweah basin in the Visalia area, while other entities in the region have established neighboring agencies.
The state is aware of the concern about coordination, said Dan McManus, senior engineering geologist at the Department of Water Resources’ sustainable groundwater management program.
“We’ve heard that creates challenges at the local level,” he said. “We’ve heard that quite a bit.”
Groundwater management agencies are being established in basins around the state, and must be created by mid-2017.
Dennis Mills, general manager of the Kings County Water District, said state regulators want to have only one point of contact per basin, which may not be realistic.
“It is expedient for DWR, but not required in the legislation,” Mills said.
Additionally, “the regulations are an unfunded mandate” because for many agencies they will require drilling expensive new wells for monitoring groundwater levels, he said.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, approved by the Legislature as the California drought took hold with a vengeance, is meant to help California survive droughts without depleting underground reserves.
Under the law, groundwater basins and sub-basins throughout California must be in balance by 2040.
Basins in the central San Joaquin Valley are among the most overdrafted in the state.
Dick Schafer, watermaster of the Tule River, whose flows are used to irrigate farmland, said the regulations go too far.
“They exceed the intent of the Groundwater Management Act” and would add to the cost of preparing the sustainability plans that each agency must prepare under the law by 2020, he said.
Water lawyer Ernest Conant of Bakersfield said the regulations take a “one size fits all” approach when there are different issues among basins.
“The regulations have overreached,” he said.
Not everyone who spoke was a farmer.
Sopac Mulholland, executive director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust land preservation organization in Visalia, said regulations call for “substantial compliance” in achieving sustainable groundwater but the wording leaves too much wiggle room and should simply be “compliance.”
“When you look at the facts, wells are going dry already,” she said.
Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold, email@example.com
Agencies seek two-month delay for Delta tunnels hearing
By Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler
In response to dozens of pending protests, state and federal officials asked for a two-month delay in hearings that could decide the fate of Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial plan to build two massive tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
On Monday, the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – the agencies that run the huge Delta pumps – requested a 60-day continuance on hearings that were scheduled to begin in early May at the State Water Resources Control Board.
The agencies said in a letter that they believe the extra time could help resolve or consolidate protests from a slew of environmental groups, and Delta and Northern California water agencies. A spokesman for the board said the request is under consideration. Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt said the hope is to whittle down some of the individual complaints before the lengthy hearings start.
The requested delay appears to have nothing to do with a complaint filed last week by a powerful water conglomerate made up of mostly San Joaquin Valley farm-water suppliers demanding that two members of the board be disqualified from the hearings.
The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority argued that control board Chair Felicia Marcus and board member Tam Doduc, the presiding officers in the hearing, have already made up their minds about a critical issue that could translate into less water delivered to San Luis and other water agencies south of the Delta.
Coming from a critical financier of the project, the protest raised fresh questions about the viability of the $15.5-billion tunnels plan, which is designed to re-engineer the plumbing of the Delta, repair its fragile ecosystem, and shore up the reliability of deliveries of water pumped to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Those deliveries often are interrupted by the need to keep water in the Delta to preserve fish, as well as other environmental concerns.
In order to build the tunnels, the state and federal agencies need permission from the control board to divert water from the Sacramento River at a point near Clarksburg, north of the existing pumps in Tracy.
Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow, firstname.lastname@example.org
Morning Star appeals tomato facility’s $1.5M fine
By Kirk Barron
A Williams tomato paste facility has appealed a $1.5 million fine from the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board over an expansion project in 2015 that state regulators say violated the facility’s waste discharge requirements.
The facility’s owner defended the company’s actions in a 15-page letter released last week.
Founder and owner Chris Rufer said The Morning Star Company is not polluting groundwater and denied expansions to the facility’s cooling and settling ponds went against the facility’s existing permit. Rufer said in his letter that nine of the 10 violations are baseless.
Morning Star agreed to a negotiated cease and desist order in February but is fighting the fine. Its packing facility in Williams was built in 1995 and employs about 50 year-round employees and 250 seasonal employees during the peak season from July to October. The facility produces bulk tomato paste used by food manufacturers to make spaghetti sauce, ketchup and other tomato-based products.
The 2015 expansion to the facility nearly doubled its tomato paste production capacity to about 1,350 tons an hour. It is the largest facility of its kind in the world, Rufer said.
At the time of the hearing in February, the regional water board noted the “egregious nature of Morning Star’s actions” and said the company misled the board about the expansions. Those are claims Rufer vehemently denied in the letter and in an interview with the Appeal-Democrat.
“There were at least three (3) specific notices to the Board specifically identifying expansions of the Cooling Pond, Settling Pond and less acreage of land application area, and nothing to hide plus nothing hidable!” Rufer wrote.
Rufer said the board misinterpreted the language of the regulation and Morning Star should not be required to file for a new waste discharge requirement.
However, water board environmental program manager Wendy Wyels disagreed with Rufer’s interpretation and assertion the board was informed of the expansions to the wastewater system, specifically size increases to the cooling and setting ponds and decreased acreage of cropland that is irrigated with the wastewater.
Morning Star was required to file a report of waste discharge that includes maps, detailed descriptions of the expansions and was to have a geologist look at the possible effect on groundwater before making the changes, Wyels said.
“They were planning it at the same time that we were writing the permit,” Wyels said. “The timing was right, but they just didn’t provide the information to us to include in the permit.”
Rufer said he disagrees with the board’s assertion the expansion poses a threat to groundwater. The wastewater produced in tomato packing process falls into two categories, he said.
Test wells within 100 feet of the cooling and settling ponds showed no pollution before or after the expansion, Rufer said, and neither pond was responsible for the odor violations which led to the water board investigation.
The water board received two readings from the test wells near the ponds since the change, but it is too early to tell whether or not groundwater will be effected, Wyels said.
Monitoring wells in the cropland where the wastewater is used for irrigation did show groundwater pollution for one field, Wyels said.
Rufer said the odor violations in August 2015 that led to the board’s actions were due to the facility experiencing some difficulties during the start up of the expansion, which improved water and electricity efficiency, and increased production.
The odors primarily came from a single rice field that was irrigated with recycled water from the facility, but due to several spills that increased the amount of tomato matter, and a reduction in water used due to the more efficient facility, the water produced an offensive smell that led to complaints from neighbors, Rufer said.
“The only other time we had odor complaints was when we also tried cutting water down about 10 years ago,” Rufer said. “When you try to innovate, you will make mistakes.”
The facility is working on $3 to 5 million in engineering improvements to the facility which will help the operation run more smoothy and reduce spills, Rufer said.
CONTACT Reporter Kirk Barron at 749-4796., email@example.com
Ventura County Star
Ventura County petition for SOAR to be submitted Tuesday with 30,000 signatures
By Kathleen Wilson
Backers of the effort to renew the Ventura County open-space initiatives are prepared to file voter signatures Tuesday to put a countywide measure on the November ballot.
More than 30,000 people have signed a petition to extend the measure expiring at the end of 2020 for 30 more years, said Karen Schmidt, executive director of the Save Open-space & Agricultural Resources or SOAR organization.
The proposed initiative requires voter approval to develop farmland and open space in the unincorporated area of the county. Coupled with separate initiatives for most cities in the county, the measure provides some of the strongest land conservation protections in the nation, proponents say.
Almost 20,000 valid signatures of registered voters are required to put the countywide measure on the ballot, but volunteers collected more than the minimum to provide a safety cushion, SOAR officials said.
“We’re thrilled to be there,” Schmidt said Monday. “We never had any doubt.”
Under state law Clerk-Recorder Mark Lunn has 30 to 60 business days to determine whether there are enough valid signatures. After that, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors can adopt the measure, set an election or order a report before taking one of those actions.
The measure would be submitted to a vote of the electorate in the entire county if certified for the ballot.
It is one of nine measures that the SOAR board is attempting to renew. The others extend voter requirements for eight of the 10 cities, generally by requiring voter approval to develop land outside established boundaries. The exceptions are Port Hueneme, which has no room to expand, and Ojai, which already has strong land conservation protections.
Organizers in Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark and Santa Paula have already submitted signatures for initiatives in those cities.
Backers of a countermeasure called SUSTAIN VC are also collecting signatures. Their proposal is being supported by farming interests, who say they favor land protections but that more flexibility is needed to keep agriculture viable.
Their proposal would allow the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to designate up to 225 acres of farmland for plants to process locally grown crops without a public vote. The board could also rezone certain agricultural parcels next to schools to avoid conflicts between school and agricultural uses.
The petition drive is going well, said Lynn Jensen, executive director of the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, which supports the effort.
“We believe we’re on track,” she said Monday.
Organizers plan to submit their petitions by mid-May, she said.
Kathleen Wilson covers county government and does investigative projects.
@countykathleen firstname.lastname@example.org 805-437-0271