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night of the living wage

A family of four living in Sonoma County must earn $57,728 a year simply to meet their basic needs. So states the 2008 California Family Self-Sufficiency Standard. Napa County is slightly more costly than Sonoma, while living in Marin County drills that same four-member family for a mind-numbing $73,576 each year. And that's just to squeeze by. With stats like this, it's no wonder North Bay municipalities are scrambling for creative ways to keep working families housed and fed.

On Monday, June 16, the city of Petaluma considers one creative plan to measure the impacts of business growth upon members of its community. As reported earlier in these pages ("True Cost," March 5), community impact reports, or CIRs, are being considered by Petaluma to be matched with already mandated EIRs to provide a more comprehensive picture of how any proposed development affects them. The CIRs are designed, according to the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, to factor in "the potential impacts of proposed large retail projects on small businesses, public health and social services, job quality and affordable housing."

Ben Boyce of the Living Wage Coalition describes how this works. "If a business pays substandard wages with low benefit ratios, then it's going to have a measurable impact on public services in the form of things like affordable-housing subsidies, food-stamp usage and usage of public health facilities. So what we're saying to public policy makers is that we need to look at all of the impacts of a particular business."

To get a notion of how high the North Bay's cost of living is, just compare our stats with those of Portland, Ore. Sperling's Best Places rates Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton as being 27 percent cheaper to live in than Santa Rosa-Petaluma. And the $57,075 it takes to make ends meet in Sonoma County? Portland, one of the most desirable metropolitan areas in America, is $15,000 a year less expensive, a savings of $1,250 each month."

This [CIR] process helps weight the decision-making process in favor of the more responsible businesses that pay better wages, provide better benefits and are less of a drain on the public sector," says Boyce. "Our mission is to improve living standards for working people."

The CIR meeting is slated for Monday, June 16, in the Petaluma City Council Chambers, 1 English St., Petaluma. 7pm. For details, call 707.478.9663.


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