In a letter addressed to the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors on June 5, 2015, Vice Chair Dmitra Smith provided the following background that moved the Commission to draft a resolution in support of a Living Wage Ordinance:
As we begin to settle into the 21stcentury, we are faced with some of the most challenging problems of our time. Climate change, geo political conflict and the widening gap between the rich and the poor are just some of the major issues we need to find solutions for. At the roots of these challenges, human rights are almost always impacted, especially if their importance is not a strong consideration for our government, politicians and elected officials. Nationwide, we are facing a very tangible reality in which basic things like food, housing, jobs and education are becoming difficult to count on for many Americans. This hurts us all as a county and a nation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in article 25 that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [themselves] and of [their] family. Franklin Delano Roosevelt declares in the Second Bill of Rights that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”
Sonoma County is known for its environmental beauty, idyllic landscapes, relaxed living style and economic wealth from agricultural industries. Our population is growing, with now over 500,000 residents estimated in the 2014 census. And within that population, we have a percentage of persons living below the poverty line of 11.9%. While that may be smaller compared to some other areas of the US, we don’t need to travel too far outside our personal spheres to understand that a much larger percentage of folks are working as hard as they can to not fall into that 11.9% percentage and increase it.
We have still not recovered from the 2008 market crash, which greatly impacted housing stability. Rents are skyrocketing all over the San Francisco Bay Area, food prices have increased, and too often, the minimum and low wage salaries many folks receive are just not enough to make ends meet. And is it about simply making ends meet? Living hand to mouth does not move us forward as a society because it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. In Unheard Voices, a recent Junior Commission on Human Rights project interviewing and photographing homeless residents in Sonoma County, we found that over half of our participants were already employed but still homeless, because the cost of living combined with their low wage salaries did not allow them to move into a stable housing situation. We need to truly move forward into the 21st century and make sure that workers in our county have access to a living wage.
The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights is proud to pass a resolution in support of the cities of Sonoma, Sebastopol and Petaluma, who have already enacted living wage ordinances. We also support the League of Women Voters in their efforts toward the adoption of a county wide living wage ordinance. We urge our elected officials to take a serious look at this issue and take action. There is a saying that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s time to put Sonoma County on the map nationwide for a standard of living that is equitable and sustainable.
The resolution passed on a 8-0-2 vote. Two Commissioners abstained and four were absent.