A new City of Los Angeles ordinance extending the city’s “living wage” to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)-area hotels has been delayed until at least May, after a Superior Court judge ordered the city to put the law’s implementation on hold.
In a ruling Wednesday, February 28th, Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs ordered the city to delay publication of the living wage law for airport-area hotels and said she would consider the legality of the ordinance in May.
The ordinance, another version of which was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in November but was later rescinded, would require the LAX-area hotels to pay their service workers $9.39 per hour with health benefits or $10.64 per hour without.
Business groups in opposition said the law should not be extended to businesses that don’t have contracts with the city and they gathered more than 100,000 signatures to qualify a referendum on the earlier law for the ballot.
In response to the referendum, Los Angeles City Council rescinded the ordinance, but then voted 10-3 Wednesday, February 21st, to give final approval to a new ordinance. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the new ordinance into law Monday, February 26th.
But hotels in opposition filed a lawsuit a day later, alleging that the city enacted “essentially the same living wage ordinance.”
In the lawsuit, the hotels asked the court to direct the city clerk to delay publication of the new ordinance until a full hearing on its legality can be conducted.
“Our position is that the second ordinance passed is essentially the same as the first ordinance,” said Paul Gough, attorney for the hotels. “The lawsuit is about whether the second ordinance is the same as the first, not about the merits of the ordinance.”
If the second ordinance were to be published, a new 30-day period to obtain referendum petition signatures would then begin, Gough said. This would violate the constitutional rights of the more than 100,000 signers of the referendum petition on the original ordinance because their signatures would then be nullified, he said.
Gough said Janavs’ decision to temporarily halt the ordinance’s implementation was “absolutely the right decision.”
But Los Angeles city attorneys argued that the new living wage ordinance is “substantially different” from the first.
Among the major differences in the new ordinance, according to city attorneys, are that the living wage for workers is to be “phased” in and that it creates an airport “hospitality zone.”
Some requirements under the airport hospitality zone are that $1 million in street improvements be done by the city for the Century Boulevard Corridor, and that a study of the ordinance’s effects be conducted.
Gough called the new provisions “bells and whistles” that don’t make the second ordinance any different than the first.
“The heart of the ordinance dealing with the living wage is, for all intents and purposes, identical,” Gough said.
But city attorney spokesman Jonathan Diamond said the city is prepared to defend the differences between the two ordinances.
“We believe there are substantial differences and we will argue the merits before the court,” Diamond said. “We’re confident we will prevail on the merits when it comes time to argue.”
City attorneys said the new ordinance including the airport hospitality zone will provide “tremendous economic benefits” to hotels and businesses near the airport, and once the ordinance is published, the petitioners will still have 30 days in which to submit another referendum petition.
The hotels argued in their lawsuit that the law’s publication should be delayed because another signature gathering process on essentially the same ordinance would be “expensive and time- consuming.”