Pushback on racial-quota lawsuit against Caltrans

I’d written a story for today’s editions about the federal lawsuit filed yesterday by San Diego Associated General Contactors against Caltrans, claiming the transportation department’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program is unfairly setting racial and gender quotas for federally-funded contracts.

This afternoon, I received a statement decrying that lawsuit from the Center for Policy Initiatives, a San Diego-based nonprofit “dedicated to the interests of working people in the San Diego region,” according to its Web site. “Through research, community organizing and outreach, we seek policy change to promote economic justice and raise workers from poverty to the middle class.”

“The need is clearly demonstrated and growing” for programs like DBE, said CPI research and policy director Murtaza Baxamusa; in 2005, 90 percent of all federal contracts were awarded to companies owned by white males, and in 2008 that number increased to 95 percent.

Programs like DBE help address this disparity, stimulating economic recovery in places where people of color and other disadvantaged workers live, the center claims.

“The AGC has gone too far this time, putting self-interest ahead of true economic recovery,” CPI Executive Director Donald Cohen said. “This lawsuit undermines the intent of the economic stimulus money to help disadvantaged communities get on their feet.”

The center’s news release accuses the AGC of a history of actions “harmful to working families and communities of color” such as opposing policies providing prevailing wages, overtime pay for excessive hours, and equal opportunity for all subcontractors to work on City of San Diego contracts.

“Our economy cannot recover unless we move forward quickly with targeted actions to lift people out of poverty,” Cohen said. “It’s time for the contractors’ lobby to get out of the way.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.


  1. Is there a feminine/Afro-American/lesbian/Latino/you- name- perspective on public works? It took years
    to wean local government away from favoring their cronies on big projects, now we have to contend with gender/race/ethnicity? As for “lifting people out of poverty,” giving the unskilled and under-educated priority in employment has nothing to do with helping the economy recover. What are out-of-work, skilled, well-trained men and women supposed to do? Quietly wait their turn while high school dropouts take priority? Congress did not intend the stimulus money to rescue the long-term jobless, that’s a task for adult education and work-training programs. The economic plight of low-income communities started long before this crisis and needs to be addressed. But until the larger economy recovers, there won’t be the means to help “lift” anybody upward.

  2. What RR said!

    There is so much BS in the CPI statement that I didn’t know where to begin.

    The AGC is simply asking the court to enforce the law.

    If the CPI doesn’t like the law, there are ways to change it.

  3. If CPI was truly “dedicated to the interests of working people”, their statement would never have been issued. What they are “dedicated” to is race-baiting hyperbole and they should be ignored for being the idiots they are. Taxpayer funded contracts must be awarded to those who will do the best work for the least amount of money. Skin color has no voice.

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