San Francisco locks Blacks out from building our own library


by Joseph Debro

The construction industry is infected with the pathology of racism. This infection is chronic. It first occurred in 1867. At that time the practitioners were injecting racism to protect those white people who had less skill than the newly freed slaves who were forced to ply their skills for less money.

Over the years, this infection has evolved under local and national laws. These laws have favored those who bring legacy to the game. Big unions and big contractors have conspired to restrict the number of contractors and workers who may enter the industry. These restrictions do not apply to familial relationships.

There is in law a requirement for something called the joint apprenticeship council. This council is composed of big unions and big contractors. Its effective role is to restrict the membership of unions by limiting training opportunities. These training opportunities are generally limited to relatives and friends of those who control the process.

These whites only-organizations can and have limited the number of Blacks admitted to the training programs. Once a limited number of Blacks are admitted to the unions, dispatch is used to limited the work opportunities. Dispatch is the method of placing union members on the job. Those who run the unions make the decisions on who works and who does not. Who gets good workers and who does not.

Constitutional law and local laws are used to limit the number of contractors. Bonds and insurance are required for bidding and for contracts in the public sector. The private sector is closed by practice. Only White contractors are welcome in the private sector. The private sector does not require bonds. Bonds are only required by government contracts.

As I have stated in previous essays, government has requirements not practiced by other sectors of our economy. The government allows unions to set the rules of competition. These rules are designed to use poor people to attract federal money to an urban venue, then to exclude these same people from becoming union members and contractors.

The only open construction opportunity for descendants of former slaves lies in the public sector. The rules of engagement in the public sector are such that elimination is practiced without contest. Insurance requirements are arbitrarily imposed. The bid bond requirement prevents most small contractors from bidding. When this requirement is waived, as it should be, and a small contractor is low bidder, the bond required to perform the work is almost impossible to acquire. The federal government guarantees insurance companies against loss. Yet the bonding companies continue to discriminate.

In the case of the contract to build the new Bayview Library, the City of San Francisco first showed the citizens of Bayview Hunters Point its contempt for them by going out of state to find a white firm to design this structure for a Black community. Let’s assume this structure was being built in Chinatown. Do you think that the City would have contracted with any but a Chinese designer? I think not.

The City then bid this contract in such a way that any contractor could win, without respect to its employment history. A Black contractor with a history of hiring and training Black youngsters was the low bidder. This contractor was awarded the contract and subsequently disqualified for a reason that was correctable. The second lowest bidder was then awarded the contract. This contractor has no history of subcontracting with Blacks. He submitted with his bid no subcontractors who are Black.

Once again our community is disrespected. Rather than making a requirement that the contractor have a history of training and employing Black people, the City showed no interest in the contractor’s history. If we allow the City to contract in this way, it is on us. Bayview Hunters Point is our turf. Dope dealers know how to protect their turf. Perhaps we can learn from them.

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


  1. "Over the years, this infection has evolved under local and national laws. These laws have favored those who bring legacy to the game. Big unions and big contractors have conspired to restrict the number of contractors and workers who may enter the industry. These restrictions do not apply to familial relationships."

    Could we get a clarification of this sentence? "These restrictions do not apply to familial relationships."

  2. Here's the City's excuse for rescinding the contract: Though Liberty Builders had bought the required commercial auto policy when awarded the contract, the broker had neglected to send the certificate of insurance to the City. Liberty didn't know that. In November, the City noticed the omission and emailed a warning they would rescind the contract for that reason if they didn't receive the certificate the following day. Despite Liberty's pressure, the broker neglected to submit it until two days later. The City rescinded the contract.
    Mary Ratcliff on behalf of Willie Ratcliff, Liberty Builders

  3. In response to Ann's question, you're likely to run into restrictions when attempting to enter the industry unless you're related to someone already in. It's an under-the-radar way to maintain the racial status quo.

  4. Is it 'permissable' to publish the names of our employees at City Hall who had anything to do with this travesty, also the broker in question. If any one has the time or expertise, it would be interesting to research any prior or current relationships or dealings between the individuals involved, the smoking gun of collusion has to be stashed somehere.
    Patrick Monk.RN.

  5. Absolutely! That kind of help would be a godsend. Ed Reiskin, director of the Department of Public Works, signed the order to rescind the award of the contract and rejected our request for reconsideration. Fuad Sweiss, deputy director of DPW, wrote the last and several other threatening letters; we managed to meet his other deadlines. The decision to rescind had to have been approved by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who we hold ultimately responsible.

    The insurance brokerage is Statewide Insurance Brokers,, License No. 0F27246, headquartered in Pasadena. If they'd been nearby, we could have picked up and hand delivered a copy of that certificate ourselves. That wasn't our first problem with them. You may remember our last minute plea for help in paying for the liability insurance. Statewide had quoted us a price, which we paid. Then they admitted that policy wouldn't meet City requirements (which we had sent them at the get-go) and at the last minute charged an additional $5,000, which we didn't have as the City's deadline loomed. Thanks to an outpouring of pledges totaling three times what we needed (we accepted only the amount needed) in one day, we were able to meet that deadline.

    We didn't seek the contract nor are we fighting the loss of it just for Liberty Builders. This is the largest contract San Francisco ever awarded to Blacks and the ONLY contract in over a decade. Bayview Hunters Point is constantly cited as the part of San Francisco where most of the construction will take place in the foreseeable future. Unless we fight back, Blacks will continue to be locked out of construction and pushed out of San Francisco.

    Mary Ratcliff on behalf of Willie Ratcliff, Liberty Builders

  6. City Hall makes it difficult for public to easily access information so don'y know if these will work, but a few suggestions:-
    DPW. Director Deputy Deputy Deputy Comm/Public Affairs





    Happoy hunting. Let me know if any of these work. Gonna send out a couple of tests.

  7. Curioser and curioser.
    A search for KCK Builders turns up one outfit by that name, apparently with offices in San Rafael. Their is hardly any info on their site except for phone contacts for a Mike Hannegan. There is no Contractors License# on their site. A quick search of State Licensing Board showed no information on either the company or the individual in question.

  8. @Pat, I had the same experience, but I did find the license. It's under K C K Builders (spaces between the letters). What's listed by the Contractors State License Board as their office is a little room inside another contractor's office, at 1320 Egbert on the edge of Bayview Hunters Point. Mike Hannegan didn't even list a Black "front" as a joint venture partner as the other bidders did. From the looks of his "office," with a desk and a couple of chairs and devoid of people when Willie Ratcliff stopped by, Hannegan looks like a front himself. For whom, who knows?

    Mary Ratcliff, editor
    SF Bay View

  9. You should have gotten a copy and hand delivered it to the city, and received a written stamped receipt of received by the city. This is not right but this is an example of dot your i's and cross your t's. Don't let them have that opportunity to take something away from you. this is heartbreaking and I would change insurance companies they are just as much to blame as the city for this infraction.

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