Santa Monica Living Wage Campaign

Judy Marblestone, 3L

The Docket, UCLA School of Law

October 2002



            One night at a luxury Santa Monica beachfront hotel can easily cost over $500, and even as much as $2900!  Hundreds of low-wage workers clean and service these rooms each day, and hundreds more prepare patrons’ meals, wash dishes, and provide other services.  Yet many of these hotel workers earn wages that leave them and their family in poverty. 


            That could change on November 5.  Santa Monica voters that day will have a historic opportunity to enact a Living Wage ordinance that would benefit an estimated 2,000 low-wage workers who make Santa Monica’s multi-million dollar tourism industry possible.  By passing Measure JJ, Santa Monica voters will send a message that people who work full-time should earn enough to support themselves and their families.


            The proposed Santa Monica living wage is $10.50 an hour, plus $1.75/hour toward benefits (increasing to $2.50/hour toward benefits in the second year).  The ordinance covers workers in Santa Monica’s coastal zone, about 1.5 square miles in the heart of Santa Monica, including the Third Street Promenade and Ocean Avenue around the Santa Monica Pier.


            A study commissioned by the city of Santa Monica found that the majority of workers affected by the living wage are poor or near poor.  Seventy-five percent live in families whose median income leaves them below the Los Angeles poverty line.


            The living wage would go a long way toward lifting hard-working people out of poverty.  According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, “the average rent for a two bedroom apartment at the low end of the rental market… [is] $1,088 in Los Angeles County.”  And, as we students know only too well, rent is only one of a number of subsistence expenses including food, transportation, medical care, and child care, among others.


            Santa Monica’s large hotels, where the majority of low-wage workers covered by the ordinance are concentrated, can well afford to pay their employees more.  Revenues from Santa Monica’s tourism industry have tripled since the early 1980s from $200 million in 1983 to $700 million in 2000.  Millions of dollars of public spending and favorable city policies facilitated much of this growth.  Since 1990, hotel development along the Santa Monica oceanfront has been prohibited.  As a result, the existing luxury hotels face extremely limited competition and soaring profits.  Also, since 1985 taxpayers have invested over $180 million in the coastal zone on projects such as beach and pier renovation and operating expenses for the Third Street Promenade.  Even if Santa Monica’s tourism industry had not received such enormous public monies, basic notions of fairness support paying a living wage.


            The Santa Monica Living Wage Ordinance is fair to both workers and employers.  The ordinance exempts small and medium-sized businesses – only those with annual gross receipts of $5 million or more are covered.  In addition, employers facing extreme economic hardship are exempt.  Thus, the ordinance only targets companies that can afford to pay a living wage.


            The Santa Monica Living Wage Ordinance would be a significant step towards lifting 2,000 low-wage workers out of poverty.  If you live in Santa Monica, please be sure to vote YES on Measure JJ on November 5.  And even if you don’t live in Santa Monica, there are lots of ways you can support this effort.  If you’re interested in getting more involved in the Santa Monica Living Wage campaign, please email me at