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Genetics, Ag, and the Minimum Wage

A monthly update by Michelle Blackwell, Chair, Richmond Chamber Government Relations Committee.

City Manager Bill Lindsay was a guest at the Richmond Chamber Government Relations Committee meeting on January 21st. He came to respond to queries we had about the GMO and Urban Ag ordinances the City is considering. While he was there we also got a little info on the proposed minimum wage ballot measure.

To start, the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) ordinance is no longer being pursued by the City. You may recall that the State had this on the ballot last go around and it was defeated. I checked, and over 50% of Contra Costa voters voted against requiring GMO labeling. The City had considered requiring it locally, but found out that it was out of their jurisdiction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUrban Ag? What is it and why an ordinance? The ordinance is intended to help those who wish to plant gardens or small farms on vacant and public lots to gain permits for that purpose. While it restricts the type of equipment used (no heavy farm machinery), it also eases the permit process for an accessory structure, like a shed. It defines a small community garden as being less than an acre and an urban farm as being greater than an acre. It includes composting guidelines but does not restrict pesticide usage. Home gardens are exempt and do not require a permit. Farmers can sell their products and set up a farm stand for that purpose. The ordinance is part of the City’s Community Health and Wellness Initiative and it could foster some entrepreneurial spirit in town.

Now about that minimum wage. All of you know by now that the City Council is considering one to three ballot measures to increase the minimum wage in the City. Several other Bay Area cities like San Francisco and San Jose have minimum wages that are higher than the State’s. Most do not and there are none in Contra Costa County. Richmond already has a living wage rule ($15.40 an hour with medical and $16.00 per hour without) for businesses that work with the City. The ballot measures, if passed, sets a higher minimum wage for all businesses in the City of Richmond. Each ballot measure would cost the City about $20K. It is still early and there are calls for an economic study and to reduce the complexity of the proposal. The Chamber will keep you apprised as this moves forward.

Other updates – The Moody Underpass is on schedule for completion in mid 2015. The Mayor is still looking for JPA partners to pursue eminent domain for underwater mortgages. Our next meeting is scheduled for February 18th at 8:30am at the Richmond Chamber office. If you have a question or subjects you would like covered, email or call the Chamber at or 510-234-3512.

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