Blacks demand parity as construction season begins

Bay Area Black Builders meet Saturday, April 10, 12 noon, at 1099 Sunnydale in Visitacion Valley, San Francisco – all contractors, workers and jobseekers welcome!

Bayview-Library-architects-rendering-1209-web, Blacks demand parity as construction season begins, Local News & Views A new Bayview Library is about to be built. To prevent a repeat of the still painful exclusion of Blacks from construction of Third Street Light Rail, Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff, a licensed contractor for over 40 years and the owner of Liberty Builders, located only a block down Third Street from the library, has entered the competition with a team of the top Black construction professionals in the Bay Area, several with national renown, including Frederick Jordan, Leroy Griffith, Willie J. Robinson, Leonard Williams and Robert Kelley Woods, along with local subcontractors. All are firmly committed to the principal that the Bayview Library must be built by the people it serves.

Bonding, historically responsible for excluding Black contractors, is once again a stumbling block. To make sure it does not snatch this opportunity from a neighborhood where unemployment is intolerably high, Ratcliff has included in his application a statement that reminds the City it has the power to include bonding among the requirements it reserves the right to alter or waive. His statement follows this editorial by Joseph Debro.

by Joseph Debro, president, Bay Area Black Builders

Economic parity is an elusive goal. Sometime we help those who would deny us. All across this country we have bought into the notion of “minority participation.” We have allowed others, hostile to our interests, to frame the debate.

The Bay Area Black Builders will reframe this debate. The definition is a zero sum paradigm. It is composed of two elements, not one. If minorities are limited, the majority configures the imposition of this limit.

The sum total is 100 percent. When policy makers crow about a 20 percent minority goal, they are really telling us that the majority goal is 80 percent.

As a scientist and engineer, when I deal with social problems of justice, logic often gets in the way. While examining the justice of minority participation in construction activity, a truth became self-evident.

BMW-hard-hat, Blacks demand parity as construction season begins, Local News & Views I revisited the minority goals and the majority goals for construction of the new Bayview Library on Third Street in Hunters Point. The Human Rights Commission set those minority participation goal at 20 percent. By default they set the majority goal at 80 percent. This is so unjust that this goal is never stated. There are apparently no goals set for expenditures in the press. All of the print dollars are spent with the White press.

What is the equation out of which comes the 20 percent-80 percent factors? There are two elements to this equation that are ill represented. One such element is majority. If the minority pool is limited to 20 percent, it follows that the majority pool must then get the remaining 80 percent.

It is known and often stated that the composition of the minority pool is as follows: all White women, disabled veterans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Asians and Blacks. The goal for this group is 20 percent of the construction price. White men are the only element of the population left UN-addressed. The goal for white men is 80 percent of the construction dollars.

Who is the majority? What is left for the non-minority sometime referred to as the majority population? There is such an advantage to being a member of the minority group, everyone has become a member. The only people left in the majority are white American-born males. It is this group that has been protected for the remaining 80 percent of the contract price.

If I state the contract equation in a slightly different way, the goals for white contractors are 80 percent. The goals for minority contractors are 20 percent. This is a balanced equation.

This is the kind of justice Blacks get in Hunters Point. When in the course of our discussion we strive to set goals, we should be aware of the beneficiaries. While others describe the goals as minorities’ goals I will describe them as majority goals.

We need to balance the equations. When government agencies brag about how high the goals are and how they have met their goals, remember there are two elements to this equation: Majority and Minority.

This is a zero sum game. The American born White man is on one side of this equation and the rest of us are on the other side. The more construction work minorities get, the less work left for White contractors.

The goals for the library restated were 80 percent of the work for white male contractors and 20 percent for the rest of us. If the minority goals are not met, by default white contractors increase their share.

The HRC cooked the books at the policy making level by defining goals that are for the benefit of the small powerful white male population. They issued public statements that defined only what they attempted to do for the larger population of White women, veterans, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics and Blacks. The larger population got fewer contracts than the smaller population and this was defined as just.

When any public agency states its minority contracting goals, please ask them to state for the record the majority contracting goals. Let us unmask this deception.

Join us on Saturday, April 10, 12 noon, at 1099 Sunnydale in Vis Valley, San Francisco, as we address the issues of Black Men Working. BMW.

Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders and co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors. He is a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at

Bonding to ensure new Bayview Library is built by the people it serves

Statement of Willie Ratcliff, Liberty Builders, submitted in response to the Request for Qualifications for Construction Manager/General Contractor for construction of the new Bayview Branch Library, 5075 Third St., San Francisco, California 94124, by Liberty Builders-Bona Tech Engineering Joint Venture

Because the Bayview Branch Library is a highly revered beacon of enlightenment, the Bayview Hunters Point community is excited about the construction of a new building to house it and eager to be involved. Exclusion from contracting and job opportunities on Third Street Light Rail, the last major construction project by the City and County of San Francisco in the neighborhood, is still raw and painful, and the community applauds the city’s flexibility and apparent commitment to ensuring inclusion this time.

Our joint venture, featuring African American construction professionals of national renown, has submitted an application for bonding to Merriwether & Williams Insurance Services, the firm that administers San Francisco’s Surety Bond Program, which is described as follows:

“The City & County of San Francisco Surety Bond Program helps increase the participation of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in city construction projects. The program was designed to assist contractors and subcontractors in obtaining or increasing bonding and financing for City of San Francisco construction projects.”

Bayview-Library-architects-rendering-full-view-web, Blacks demand parity as construction season begins, Local News & Views This essential program grew out of guidelines set out by the United States Supreme Court. Their implementation in San Francisco came in response to strong encouragement by the Coalition for Economic Equity, representing people of color and women in the construction industry, and its member organization, the African American Contractors of San Francisco, which I headed.

As the U.S. Supreme Court began to frown on affirmative action programs as a remedy for race and gender discrimination in public works construction, it recommended race-neutral remedies instead, ruling in its landmark Croson decision:

“Nothing we say today precludes a state or local entity from taking action to rectify the effects of identified discrimination within its jurisdiction. …

“Even in the absence of evidence of discrimination, the city has at its disposal a whole array of race-neutral devices to increase the accessibility of city contracting opportunities to small entrepreneurs of all races. Simplification of bidding procedures, relaxation of bonding requirements, and training and financial aid for disadvantaged entrepreneurs of all races would open the public contracting market to all those who have suffered the effects of past societal discrimination or neglect. Many of the formal barriers to new entrants may be the product of bureaucratic inertia more than actual necessity, and may have a disproportionate effect on the opportunities open to new minority firms. Their elimination or modification would have little detrimental effect on the city’s interests, and would serve to increase the opportunities available to minority business without classifying individuals on the basis of race. The city may also act to prohibit discrimination in the provision of credit or bonding by local suppliers and banks. Business as usual should not mean business pursuant to the unthinking exclusion of certain members of our society from its rewards.” – City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, 488 U.S. 469 (1989) at 509-510, emphasis added

In the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in Aderand, it considered the following evidence of discrimination in surety bonding as detailed in the 10th Circuit’s prior decision:

“Minority Business Participation in Department of Transportation Project: Hearing Before a Subcomm. of the House Comm. on Gov’t Operations, 99th Cong., 1st Sess. 159 (1985) (statement of Sherman Brown, President, MCAP, Inc.) (“Virtually everyone connected with the minority contracting industry . . . apparently agrees that surety bonding is one of the biggest obstacles in the development of minority firms.”). The government additionally presents evidence of an insular “old-boy” network in bonding that excludes minority firms. See, e.g., H.R. Rep. No. 103-870 at 15 & n.36. There is also strong evidence of overt racial discrimination in the bonding market. See, e.g., Discrimination in Surety Bonding: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Minority Enter., Fin. & Urb. Dev. of the House Comm. on Small Bus., 103d Cong. 2 (1993) (statement of John B. Cruz, III, President, John B. Cruz Construction Co.) (describing racial discrimination his company suffered in its efforts to obtain bonding); City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson: Impact and Response: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Urb. & Minority-Owned Bus. Dev. of the Senate Comm. on Small Bus., 101st Cong. 40-41, 43 (1990) (statement of Andrew Brimmer, President, Brimmer and Company, Inc., Economic and Financial Consultants) (presenting the results of a study showing discrimination in bonding faced by African-American, Hispanic, and Pacific-Islander-owned firms in the Atlanta area); id. at 165-66 (statement of Edward W. Bowen, Project Administrator, Prentiss Properties, Ltd.) (noting that unclear bonding standards permit denials of bonding that are arbitrary and capricious and racially-biased); Disadvantaged Business Set-Asides in Transportation Construction Projects, supra, at 107 (statement of Marjorie L. Herter, National President, Women Construction Owners & Executives, USA; President, Vee See Construction Co.) (“Discrimination against women and minorities in the bonding market is quite prevalent.”); The Compelling Interest, 61 Fed. Reg. at 26060 & n.118 (citing studies of statistical and anecdotal evidence of widespread racial discrimination in bonding). For example, the government cites a Louisiana study according to which “minority firms were nearly twice as likely to be rejected for bonding, three times more likely to be rejected for bonding for over $1 million, and on average were charged higher rates for the same bonding policies than white firms with the same experience level,” The Compelling Interest, 61 Fed. Reg. at 26,060 & n.119 (citing D.J. Miller & Associates, 2 State of Louisiana Disparity Study at 35-57 (1991)), while an Atlanta study found similarly glaring disparities in the ability of minority versus non-minority construction firms to obtain bonding generally and “unlimited bonding” in particular, Andrew F. Brimmer & Ray Marshall, Public Policy and Promotion of Minority Economic Development: City of Atlanta and Fulton County, Georgia at 19-20 (1990) (cited in City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson: Impact and Response: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Urb. & Minority-owned Bus. Dev. of the Sen. Comm. on Small Bus., 101st Cong. 193-94 (1990)).” – Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Rodney E. Slater, 228 F.3d 1147 (10th Cir. 2000) at 79, emphasis added

San Francisco’s recent history shows that in the decade since Aderand, participation by Black contractors in city contracting has declined. I know of no prime contract awards and very little participation even at the subcontract level. Unemployment in Bayview Hunters Point appears to be at an all-time high.

Construction of the new Bayview Branch Library is the perfect opportunity to cure this painful disparity by ensuring the full participation of the community it serves. Doing so will necessitate implementation of the Supreme Court’s race-neutral remedy for exclusion of Black contractors through the denial of bonding.

This can be accomplished by realizing the goals and capabilities of the San Francisco Surety Bond Program, described as follows by Merriwether & Williams Insurance Services:

“We’ve worked with contractors of all sizes, as well as with municipalities and individuals, to secure bonds that have enhanced commerce and created community benefits. …

“Merriwether & Williams has an impressive record of bonding successes in the construction field. Additionally, we have designed innovative Surety Bond and Finance Assistance Programs for several multimillion dollar construction and capital improvement projects. These programs have increased job opportunities for local and underrepresented businesses, and they underscore our commitment to the local community. …

“At Merriwether & Williams Insurance Services, we believe in supporting clients that help support the good of the community at large. We take pride in being an integral part of the safety and support of our community.”

Reference to safety is significant. In the local mainstream media, coverage of Third Street, where both Liberty Builders and the Bayview Branch Library are located just a block apart, is usually synonymous with violent crime and danger. Local employment as the way to erase the violence is borne out by history: Before the closure of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, when Bayview Hunters Point breadwinners were employed at the shipyard or in auxiliary industries, the community was so peaceful that families felt no need to lock their doors.

By facilitating the issuance of bonding to the Liberty Builders-Bona Tech Engineering Joint Venture, the City and County of San Francisco can take great strides toward restoring peace on the streets of Bayview Hunters Point.

Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff can be reached at or (415) 671-0789 or contact him at Liberty Builders, (415) 571-1722.