OUSD’s Double Talk on Reparations, Passing an Empty Policy While Moving to Exclude Black Contractors

If OUSD supports Black families it needs to support the Black economy and that means actually hiring Black, Brown and women contractors.  Unfortunately, its latest, pennywise pound foolish response is exactly the opposite.  Tonight they plan to dilute their policy that encourages the hiring of small, local and minority contractors, expanding the list of eligible folks to basically a statewide list and potentially tripling the size of what counts as “small.”

Reparations, was never a symbolic gesture or a policy or apology, it is about redistribution of resources, and the practical freedom that brings.  Construction industries and their unions have been historically racist and exclusionary.  And even when the blatant exclusion ended, what was left was an old boys club, who had amassed fortunes, partially by excluding competition.  Those fortunes allow them to continue to dominate the industry.

That’s why we have a policy that includes and builds our local businesses.  They will reinvest in the community here, and they are a part of it, not some fly by night operation from Visalia that may underbid, but won’t be around to fix defects or even care about the quality in the same way.

If the board wants to actually support Black Oakland, beyond some lip service, they need to vote the reject the amendments to Board Policy 7115, and make sure we protect our small, local and minority contractors—which ultimately protects us, and allows us to build power here in the community.

I will get to the policy but let’s take a walk down memory lane first.

A Little Oakland History

When the West Oakland Post Office was built and displaced 300 mostly Black families “not a single black plumber, operating engineer, sheer metal worker, ironworker, electrician or steamfitter was hired for construction.  When the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system (BART) was built in 1967 not a single African American skilled worker was hired to work on it.”  From Richard Rothstein’s. The Color of Law P.168.

While things may better now.  They are not fair, and the historic inequities still play in today’s rigged game.  The preference for local hires was a small effort to re-engineer these inequitable dynamics.

Continuing Exclusion and Denial

The basic issue is that OUSD is saying it cant find local contractors, and so it needs to add a bunch of other agencies who can also certify contractors, including statewide agencies like CalTrans.

“It’s so hard to find talented X,Y, or Z, we have binders of resumes, but just cant find the right candidate.”  Many of you have heard that kind of stuff before.  If you are a Black contractor, you are still feeling it now.  You can read the memo from a variety of Black supporting organizations here.

But let me run through some key points. First, we currently aren’t using the registered contractors we have,

“African American businesses, certified by the City of Oakland that perform work as design consultants and in the building trades, assert they are not being invited to bid by either the District or its prime contractors.”

And, this change will dilute the process used to certify and verify small local and minority businesses in two critical ways.  First, currently the OUSD certification process completes site visits to verify contractor status.  Most others don’t.  Scond it would include much larger firms in the pool, increasing historic exclusion.  As the memo states

“Caltrans size standard for certification as a construction firm is 36 million in  gross receipts average over three years.  City of Oakland’s  three-year average gross receipts for a construction firm is 30 percent of the Caltrans standard or 12 million. “

The memo then goes on to deconstruct some of the claims made to base the policy on and the dubious methodologies used to justify it.

“Perhaps the most profound and unsubstantiated statement was Luster/Lowe’s assertion about the interest, motivation and capability of the businesses certified with the City of Oakland.  The memorandum, in a rather dismissive manner refers to  the City of Oakland certified businesses as “a smaller than desirable pool of City of Oakland firms that are  eligible and interested in pursuing and /or participating on District projects.”   This statement is also unsubstantiated, and it implies the consultant has knowledge of the certified businesses’ interest in District contracts and ability to perform them. 

Both the staff memorandum to the Board and the accompanying consultant memorandum would benefit from more transparency.  The processes used and the facts compiled to support the recommendations need to be revealed and made available to the District’s constituents and particularly the African American business community before the Board of Directors are asked to vote on the Proposed Recommendations to the OUSD Local Business Enterprise Policy.”

Please join the State of Black Education in Oakland, and other community members in opposing this policy change, and protecting our community contractors.

Please let the Board know your opinion on this by emailing them or you can leave written comments on the policy here.  

Equity needs to more than a slogan or yard sign, it comes from concrete actions to fix past wrongs and empower those who have been disempowered.  This is one small thing we can and should do.

What do you think?

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