It would have been hard to miss this tectonic movement in San Diego politics over the past year, but, after some years of relatively sleepy political activism, the San Diego business community has reawakened. Organized labor probably doesn’t like it and the labor allies who control the City Council probably don’t like it. But San Diego will be better for it.
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the largest chamber on the West Coast, held a big shindig at Liberty Station Thursday evening to formally announce and celebrate what had already become very obvious: an aggressive strategy of political activism intended, in the words of chamber president and CEO Jerry Sanders, to “level the playing field” with labor and to make San Diego “the most business-friendly region in the state.”
The most recent illustration of that is, of course, the referendum drive currently under way challenging the council’s recently approved increase in the minimum wage San Diego employers must pay their workers. The referendum drive is sponsored by the pro-business Small Business Coalition, organized and led by Sanders and the chamber.
Chamber officials are confident they will collect sufficient signatures to force the issue to the ballot. That alone would be a significant victory because it would put the wage increase on hold until at least June 2016.
That would be only the latest in a string of wins for the business community since Sanders took over the chamber job last year with a mandate from the board of directors to move the organization to a higher level of political advocacy.
There was the election of Mayor Kevin Faulconer and of Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, both pro-business candidates strongly supported by the chamber. There were the two other successful referendum drives challenging anti-business decisions by the council on the so-called linkage fee and the Barrio Logan community plan. There was heavy chamber involvement in organizing support from the entire San Diego County delegation in Congress to approve $220 million in federal funding for expansion of the San Ysidro border crossing. And this fall, the chamber is heavily invested in the election of pro-business candidate Chris Cate to the council — a pivotal seat that, should Cate win, will end the supermajority of pro-labor council members that allows them to override Faulconer vetoes.
The important thing about this renewed activism is not so much the score card of wins or losses. This is about the future of San Diego and what kind of city we will be — a dynamic, pro-growth, innovative region built around the industries of the future, or a smaller version of a state government whose policies have led to high poverty, high unemployment, low growth and the flight of business and wealth out of the state.
It’s good to see the chamber, and the broader business community it represents, back in the game.
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