San Diego’s biggest minimum wage hike in years goes into effect New Year’s Day

In this 2016 photo, Edenils Lemus washes dishes at Rudford's Restaurant in North Park. Food service workers are among those affected by minimum wage increases.
(Howard Lipin)

San Diego’s minimum wage is going up $1 per hour — from $12 to $13 — on Jan. 1, making it the biggest annual bump the city has seen in three years.

The latest increase in the city follows a series of 50-cent raises that began rolling out in 2016, when the City Council approved the string of wage hikes. Since January 2016, the city minimum wage has risen by $2 — before the 2020 increase.

The state of California is also increasing its minimum wage in 2020 to $13 per hour, but only for companies who employ 26 people or more. Smaller businesses whose workforce falls under that threshold will only be required to pay $12, which was the minimum wage in 2019. That means San Diego County’s 17 other cities, plus the unincorporated areas, will also see a minimum wage increase for companies that employ 26 or more people.

The city of San Diego has no such rule. In 2020, all employers located in the city are required to pay a minimum wage of $13, regardless of company size.

Although it’s a big bump compared to the past three years, San Diego’s minimum wage is still lower than many other California jurisdictions. By July, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Malibu and Pasadena will raise their minimum wage to $14.25 an hour for small employers and $15 an hour for large employers. And the small city of Emeryville, just outside of San Francisco, raised its minimum wage to $16.30 earlier this year.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, whose 80th District includes Chula Vista, National City and much of central San Diego, said the minimum wage just isn’t enough for many working families to live comfortably in San Diego.

“Right now, businesses are reporting high economic growth and those at the top are wealthier than they’ve ever been,” said Gonzalez, who’s previously advocated for worker protections. “The wealth gap is growing. We have to look at how we are compensating people and to ensure that people can make a living. Minimum wage just doesn’t do that.”

That said, Gonzalez noted that any increase helps. Some 2.6 million Californians will be due a raise in January under the new increase, according to a UC Berkeley study.

Several large companies have already beat lawmakers to the punch, instituting higher minimum wages than what the law requires. Costco, Amazon and Disneyland Resort already raised their own floors to $15.

David Spatafore, owner of local restaurant group Blue Bridge Hospitality, said the minimum wage increases may disproportionately hit small business owners and middle-tier restaurant groups operating in the city of San Diego, like his.

“Big, corporate restaurants can hide wage increases in their buying power, but smaller, mom and pop restaurants (can’t),” Spatafore said.

These groups will be paying extra, he says, to boost the wages of workers who, when tips are added in, are already making more than minimum wage.

“It’s really starting to become nearly impossible to manage our labor costs over the last several years,” Spatafore said. “Consumers are only willing to pay so much for a hamburger or pizza.”

For more information on the city minimum wage increase, see the City of San Diego website for the full municipal code.