San Diego Aiming for More Diverse Participation in Public Works

Splitting major contracts, lowering bonding requirements, and expanding outreach may help women, minority and disabled veteran owned firms.

Source : Derek Story Unsplash

June 7, 2022

Author : Alex Bustillos

San Diego seeks to become California’s leading city in bringing about public works participation for women and minority owned firms. City officials also want to tackle any barriers that disabled veterans face in being well represented within city contracts.

A new disparity study funded by the City of San Diego has examined how and to what extent minority-, women-, and disabled veteran-owned businesses are included or not included within city contracts and procurement. 

The study looked at construction contracts and the procurement of commodities and professional services that the city awarded between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2019.

The study results show that during the five-year period examined, businesses owned by white women and minorities obtained only nineteen percent of the $2.2 billion in city contracts awarded, compared to the 31 percent the study claims they should have received.

When the results are split by each group, the disparities between firms owned by white women, blacks, and native americans are substantially more significant than those held by Hispanics and Asians. According to the survey, white women received 36% of the contracts they could handle, while Blacks and Native Americans received only 20%.

In this context, council member Raul Campello explains that, "For over 30 years, we have allowed these inequities to exist in our city's contracting policies, and it's time to right this wrong." 

"The results of this disparity study are not surprising," Councilmember Vivian Moreno said. "The unfiltered reality for women and minority-owned businesses in San Diego is that they are not competing on an equal playing field."

The biggest hurdle for city lawmakers is Proposition 209, which outlaws what it describes as discrimination or preferential treatment based on sex, color, race, or national origin. Gender or racial preferences are only permissible if they are tightly tailored, and there is a compelling government interest in establishing such advantages, according to the 1996 proposition.

While the state law banned such preferential treatment in the contracting projects for being legally risky, the council countered and opposed it by saying that risks are necessary ifSan Diego wants to stand for inclusion.

Many of the suggestions to remedy this problem are splitting major contracts so that smaller companies may compete for them, lowering bonding requirements that some businesses can't pay, and expanding outreach to women and minorities-owned businesses. 

Another recommendation is to ensure that local officials pay contractors swiftly because small businesses often have smaller profit margins, making it more difficult to wait months for such payments.

It has also been proposed that the city extend and alter its Small Business Local Enterprise (SLBE) Program, which currently does not incorporate gender or race preferences. Prime contractors bidding on city projects must carry out well-documented good faith effort outreach to city certified SLBEs and ELBEs (Emergent Local Business Enterprises).

California’s Department of General Services lists a variety of firms that help prime contractors do outreach advertising, and some that will select and contact San Diego SLBEs and ELBEs, documenting the entire process.

Disabled veteran-, minority-and women-owned businesses play a pivotal role in the country’s growth. While state policymakers often take the lead in creating a healthy environment for disadvantaged firms, it’s important to note that some cities and counties are following suit.

Other city and county certified business programs exist in California as well. 

These are: (1) Alameda County’s Certified-Emergent Local Business (ELB) and Small Local Business (SLB) program, (2) the City of Oakland’s Local Business Enterprise (LBE) and Small Local Business Enterprise (SLBE) program, (3) the City and County of San Francisco’s Local Business Enterprise (LBE), (4) Los Angeles County’s Local Small Business Enterprise (LSBE) program, and (5) the Port of Long Beach’s Small Business Enterprises (SBE) / Very Small Business Enterprises (VSBE) Program.

Keep following Contractor News for the latest on San Diego and other city  and county certified business programs that are gaining traction nationwide.

Category : Disabled Veteran Businesses Minority Business Enterprises Minority Women Business Enterprises Women Business Enterprises Disparity Studies Diversity Outreach Local Government

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