By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa Planning Commission today will reconsider its June 14 vote to grant a permit for a Target store at Coddingtown mall, a move that has frustrated some business and political leaders but encouraged advocates of better wages and benefits for workers.
The decision could determine how quickly the mall can move forward with plans to demolish the two-story former Gottschalks building and replace it with a 143,000-square-foot single story Target, which would be Santa Rosa’s second.
It also could become a flashpoint between those who believe businesses freed from burdensome regulations can best spur job creation, and those who think more regulations are needed to ensure only businesses that create good-paying jobs are welcome in Santa Rosa.
Jonathan Coe, president of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, said his organization hopes the Planning Commission reaffirms its earlier approval of the project.
“We support any and all jobs,” Coe said.
But the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County has seized on the Target project – and inaccurate employment information provided by a Target executive — as evidence greater scrutiny is needed of the 200 to 250 jobs that will be created.
“There are benefits and costs to these jobs, and the community needs to consider all of those at the front end,” said Marty Bennett, co-founder of the Living Wage Coalition.
Formed in 2000, the union-supported group has lobbied for rules encouraging better wages and benefits for workers. It has won passage of living wage ordinances in Sebastopol, Sonoma and Petaluma. Santa Rosa rejected such an ordinance in 2001.
The ordinances require organizations that do business with those cities to abide by certain wage and benefits requirements. Petaluma’s ordinance, for example, requires companies that do not pay health benefits for their workers to pay wages of at least $13.20 per hour.
The national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and California’s is $8. In San Francisco, it’s $10.24 per hour.
A “living wage” is different from a “minimum wage” in that it tries to establish an amount of pay “that is sufficient to live with dignity and to achieve economic self-sufficiency,” according to Petaluma’s ordinance.
The coalition claims a living wage in Sonoma County is between $14 per hour for a single person and $33 per hour for a single parent of two children.
Bennett says Target will pay “poverty wages,” hires mostly part-time workers, and only about 37 percent of its employees are covered by health care.
John Dewes, a Target regional development manager, tried to refute those claims at the June 14 hearing, stating that 60 percent of employees at the new store would be full-timers.
But he later acknowledged that ratio was wrong, apologized to the commission, and said he had “unintentionally inverted” the full-time and part-time figures. In fact, between 35 and 45 percent of Target workers are full time, with the balance being part-timers, Dewes explained in a follow-up letter to the commission.
Target has not said what it will pay workers at the new store, but a report done for the San Rafael store estimated wages at $9 to $16.75 per hour for non-management jobs.
Despite his apology, the commission voted 3-2 to reconsider its prior approval of the permit, which is required for developments over 50,000-square-feet regardless of zoning.
The reconsideration vote prompted a shake-up on the commission. A commissioner who didn’t vote because of a conflict, Shaun Faber, subsequently resigned and City Councilman Jake Ours replaced him with Curt Groninga. The retired assistant superintendent at Santa Rosa Junior College is a member of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Council, which has a mission of promoting “a pro-business political environment.” He also hs served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Board and Charter Review Committee.
Groninga could not be reached for comment. A Target spokeswoman did not respond for comment, and mall officials had no comment.
City Attorney Caroline Fowler said under current law the city has no authority to regulate the wages or benefits of private businesses, nor does it have any requirement for development projects to conduct community impact reports, which Bennett has advocated.
Bennett claims such a report is vital because it would give decision makers the information they need to judge whether the project would be good for the community overall, including costs of uninsured workers on the public health system.
“Our question is what are you afraid of with a community impact report? This is just information that can help the decision-making process,” Bennett said.