In a setback for local businesses, a state appeals court Thursday reinstated a city ordinance requiring a dozen hotels near Los Angeles International Airport to pay workers a "living wage."

The surprise ruling overturned a May 31 lower court injunction against the ordinance and means that the hotels must pay their workers $9.39 an hour with benefits or $10.64 an hour without benefits. Hotel owners, though, are mulling an appeal to the state Supreme Court, contending that the ordinance needed voter approval before they would be forced to pay more than the minimum wage.

"The court correctly recognizes that the challenged ordinance, which was carefully crafted to respond to the concerns of the airport hotels as well as of the broader business community, differs significantly from the original airport hotel living wage ordinance," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement.

The court ruling marks another twist in a long battle between the hotels and union advocates over the living wage issue. The L.A. City Council had originally passed the living wage ordinance in January, then rescinded it after businesses threatened to place the measure before voters. Villaraigosa and the council then crafted a compromise ordinance that the hotel owners still opposed. They sued in April, saying the city had made only cosmetic changes in an attempt to avoid an election battle.

State Superior Court Judge David Yaffe had sided with the hotel owners and nullified the ordinance on May 31. L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed an appeal on behalf of the city.

In reversing the decision, the appellate court ruled that the original and revised ordinances were substantially different.

Thursday's ruling was greeted with dismay from hotel owners. In a statement released through spokesman Ruben Gonzales, the hotel owners said the decision "gutted the ability of Californians to challenge the acts of their government through a vote of the people."

The statement said the hotel owners were "considering our next steps," which could include an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Hotel worker advocates, meanwhile, cheered the ruling. "We were confident that the living wage legislation would prevail despite the opposition," Rev. Anna Olson, deputy director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, said in a statement. "The hotels on Century Boulevard were determined to deny their own workers decent wages and a better life. Today's ruling is a real victory for these hard-working men and women."

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