July 24, 2013 - 3:08 PM

A robust discussion on fighting a rising tide of inequality

“The city is under no obligation to sell public property to a company that will depress wages and benefits for workers at existing grocery stores in the same neighborhood. This city is fortunate in that we are growing and prospering, but too many people are left out of that prosperity. This is true not only here but nationwide, where we have had decades of rising inequality. And this is not just a theoretical discussion — it has real impacts on people that work in our city. Will the person ringing up groceries have good health benefits? Will those who stock the shelves with the food we buy be able to live in this city?

As mayor, I have been to forum after forum where low wage workers tell me their concerns. Rising housing costs and long commutes. They tell me about employers pushing their hours below 30 hours a week so that the company doesn’t have to provide health coverage. And when that happens, we all pick up the cost.

When the alley vacation issue came before me I took a close look at what the law permitted me to do. Our City ordinances, as explained in my letter to Peter Hahn, allow me to look at economic development, and wages and benefits, as a factor in deciding whether a proposed street vacation provides a public benefit.

As the Mayor, I had to make a decision on what recommendation I would make to Council. I chose to stand on the side of low wage workers. The Council now has an important discussion in front of them. Will we use the authority we have on street vacations to improve the working conditions of low wage workers? Should we treat the sale of public land the same way we treat public contracting – with a high expectation that our public resources will support good wages and benefits?

A Mayor is regularly asked to weigh competing priorities and make a decision on where he or she would stand. I have done so. We now know where Peter Steinbrueck stands. I hope the other candidates will engage in this discussion as well. While we only approve a small number of street vacations a year, the issue in this street vacation speaks to our values as a city.

The broader question of how can we, as a city, take local actions to fight a rising tide of inequality, is one of the most important issues we face. I look forward to a robust discussion.” – Mayor Mike McGinn

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