Affirmative Action Derailed

With Prop. 209 looming, an airport contract battle shows how S.F. has failed to keep faith with minority business

"You represent people who have two different interests, and I'm really having trouble with that," Cahill bristled.

Cahill asked Rosales what she had told the HRC director about her conclusion that Mitsubishi had failed to meet the affirmative action goals. "You advised her she is wrong?"

Responded Rosales, "Yes."
"What if she's right?" the judge said.

Judge Cahill had not answered that question by press time. But in one regard the verdict was clearly in: Though statistics show great strides in affirmative action in municipal contracts, the light-rail clash reveals that those numbers don't tell the whole story. Fortunately for S.F., the current MWB ordinance expires June 30. Between now and then, S.F. has an opportunity to repair the bureaucratic rifts and seal those cracks exposed by Terry Sanders. But making the system work won't be easy.

First, more resources are needed. When Bamba took over, the HRC directory that lists "certified" MWBs was an inch or two thick. Discovering the suspect companies, such as B & F Concrete and Metalset, would take legwork. This, at a time when the Board of Supervisors has heaped substantially more responsibility on the agency, charging it with implementing the controversial new ordinance that requires city contractors to provide the same benefits to registered domestic partners that they do for married couples.

As is the case in Richmond, where Bamba worked before joining the HRC, S.F. could make a policy of offering incentives to contractors to racially diversify their teams of subcontractors. That is achieved by giving bidders added credit for meeting race-specific hiring goals above and beyond MWB participation thresholds.

But perhaps the biggest lesson S.F. needs is that corruption and sloth thrive in a vacuum. That it is time to clearly designate the HRC as the legal arbiter of affirmative action compliance in big municipal contracts.The city should never be in the position that it was before Judge Cahill. As he concluded, "There's no rules here basically."

It's about time to make some.

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