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Bayview Library struggle escalating

April 7, 2011

Potential Liberty Builders lawsuit looms

by Joshua Arce

San Francisco – Over the past year, the San Francisco Bay View has tracked the efforts of Liberty Builders to break through the barriers and challenges that have historically kept local minority contractors from winning public works contracting opportunities. After many months of back-and-forth discussions with the City regarding the rescission of an award to rebuild the Bayview Library, Liberty has retained San Francisco civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy to pursue possible legal remedies for what Liberty alleges is a discriminatory breach of contract.

This is the architect's rendering of the new Bayview Library. The old library has now closed. For workers from Bayview Hunters Point to be fully involved in the rebuilding, the City must reinstate Liberty Builders, a Black-owned company located only a block from the library, as the prime contractor. Liberty Builders is owned by Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff, a lifelong fighter for economic equity.
With San Francisco’s historic local hiring law in effect as of March 25 and communities across the country clamoring for jobs, the Bayview Library benefits from neither the provisions of the new local hiring law nor the safeguards of a local prime contractor with a commitment to local workers. The Bayview Library was advertised for bid last year, when San Francisco’s Local Hiring Policy for Construction was just a twinkle in Supervisor John Avalos’ eye.

Civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy
Liberty Builders won the library bid on Sept. 1, 2010, and emails produced in the January 2011 issue of the SF Bay View show a string of communications between Liberty and City officials regarding certain administrative requirements before the award was formally rescinded on Nov. 5. KCK Builders, a firm with a bid $310,000 higher than that of Liberty, was awarded the library contract on Nov. 12.

Liberty has argued that the Bayview Library situation is as much about the particular facts of their experience as it is about the burdens on the capacity of minority-owned construction firms seeking to become prime contractors that make the case for much-needed reform.

Discussions in search of an informal resolution of Liberty’s concerns have yielded no results, and it has been suggested that the City faces a choice between moving forward with a sense of division in the community or making one last effort to find harmony with the only Black-owned construction firm in San Francisco to win a public works contract in more than a decade. Some have said that the Bayview Library should proceed immediately no matter the cost in light of the need for jobs, while others have countered that without the benefit of the Avalos local hiring law or a local contractor who cares about the community, there are no assurances that community jobs will actually materialize.

On Sept. 22, 2010, Willie Ratcliff signed the $5.1 million contract to rebuild the Bayview Library that the City had awarded to his company, Liberty Builders, and handed it to Rochelle Delavega of the Department of Public Works. - Photo: Francisco Da Costa
In 1997, Liberty Builders overcame the high hurdles that 14 years later have led them to engage attorney Lacy as a final recourse. That year, Liberty won a contract to perform concrete work at the San Francisco International Airport and excelled when given the opportunity to demonstrate what a committed community can do. However, that experience also included an NAACP request for FBI investigation of an incident in which a supervisor for the prime contractor hung a hangman’s noose in Liberty’s trailer.

Macio Lyons, Supervisor John Avalos, Utuma Belfrey and Joshua Arce received awards at the State of Black San Francisco conference at the Bayview Opera House on Feb. 13 for their leadership in passing the historic local hiring law that took effect March 25. - Photo: ©Grace Kao
In many ways, Supervisor John Avalos’ recent landmark local hiring legislation was an effort to present a clean slate as a means of addressing past decades of exclusion within the construction workforce, and the Department of Public Works was an important supporter of the new law since its inception. Historic lack of opportunity for underrepresented communities in construction contracting, however, has yet to be corrected, despite efforts by the Human Rights Commission and other agencies.

“We have run out of options to correct what we believe to be a discriminatory injustice,” said Liberty Builders owner Willie Ratcliff, who also publishes the Bay View. Liberty’s attorney, DeWitt Lacy, noted that “contracts are essentially a set of promises. We hope the City keeps its promise to the constituents of this community and allows them a fair opportunity to rebuild the library.”

With a dynamic and highly capable advocate in the form of attorney Lacy at Liberty’s side, the City would do well to quickly make one more attempt to begin to correct past wrongs as aggressively as Supervisor Avalos moved to reform local hiring by finding a harmonious resolution for the Bayview Library situation.

Joshua Arce, executive director of Brightline Defense Project, can be reached at josh@brightlinedefense.org. Brightline is a non-profit civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and empowering communities. Brightline’s efforts have included campaigns to shut down dirty fossil fuel power plants in Southeast San Francisco, promote local renewable energy, and increase blue-collar and green-collar employment opportunities for residents of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and environmental justice communities. Learn more at www.brightlinedefense.org.


One thought on “Bayview Library struggle escalating

  1. @AnnGarrison

    I was just thinking about posting this to my FB page, but there's a lot of competition for African attention going on there right now, with much thanks to the Bay View, which did more than any other publication to make Rwanda and the lies about what really happened in the Rwanda Genocide an issue. The truth about Rwanda is now more important than ever because it's being used as an excuse for U.S. military intervention in Africa. I.e., we have to intervene in Rwanda to stop genocide.

    Now I keep remembering that my friends, and Africa's, here at home need help too and wishing there were something I could do besides Twitter this story, but I'll do that for now.

    Reply

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