Los Angeles started its outreach program in 2001, four years before Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat and the first Hispanic mayor since 1872, took office. Photographer: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg
White Men Get 92% of Contracts in Post-Affirmative Action
By James Nash
City Controller Wendy Greuel found “general compliance” with the outreach requirements among five city departments scrutinized in a June 2012 audit.
At the same time, the controller, a candidate to succeed Villaraigosa in the May 21 election, concluded it was impossible to gauge the program’s effectiveness because the city wasn’t collecting enough data. She noted officials weren’t enforcing compliance with outreach requirements.
Neither Greuel nor her opponent, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, have made city contracting policy a campaign issue.
In an e-mailed statement, Greuel said that as mayor she would “work towards the goal of having all of these contracts be subject to the program’s requirements.” Garcetti said in an e-mailed statement that he would take similar steps, focusing “on aggressive outreach and streamlining the process.”
While Los Angeles’s proportionately low use of minority-and women-owned contractors doesn’t reflect their scarcity in the region, it isn’t the city’s job to do anything about it, said Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent who wrote the California law and pushed for other bans.
“There are a lot of people who have the view, myself included, that we don’t need to engage in tinkering in the market,” Connerly said. “I don’t favor propping up businesses through the use of race.”
Of the $2.1 billion in Los Angeles city contracts last year, about 6 percent went to minority-owned firms, below the 18 percent goal, its scorecard indicated. Another 2 percent went to women-owned firms, while the aim was 4 percent.
Less than 1 percent went to companies owned by disabled military veterans, compared to a target of 3 percent. And about 5 percent went to businesses classified as small, well shy of the 25 percent objective.
The combined share of women- and minority-owned contractors increased to 8.3 percent from 7.0 percent a year earlier, according to city data.
About 29 percent of Los Angeles’ 3.8 million residents are non-Hispanic white, and slightly less than 50 percent are male, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
San Diego began awarding so-called preference points to contractors classified as small and emerging in 2010. Such businesses received 23.7 percent of construction contracts in the year ended June 30, 2012, up from 12.9 percent the year before, according to San Diego’s business diversity report card.
Minority- and women-owned firms accounted for 10.8 percent of municipal contracts last year.
In New York, not covered by an affirmative action ban, 7.1 percent of $4.5 billion in contracts subject to racial and gender preferences went to firms owned by minorities and women in the year that ended in June 2012, according to a city report card. A year earlier, such firms accounted for 5.1 percent of contracts. New York had a total of $10.5 billion in city contracts last year, the report card indicated.
Under state law, New York can’t consider ownership in awarding prime contracts, which must go to the “lowest responsive and responsible bidder,” said Merideth Weber, spokeswoman for the Department of Small Business Services.
New York is working to overcome “significant challenges” to meeting its goals, the report by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Contract Services said. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
A 2005 New York law set diversity benchmarks for contracts under $1 million, with firms owned by African Americans, for example, targeted for 12.63 percent of construction contracts and those owned by white women for 16.5 percent of contracts for professional services.
In Los Angeles, the new city office will monitor progress toward the outreach goals, help resolve disputes between departments and contractors and enforce compliance, according to the executive directive Villaraigosa signed in January.
“There’s no question that Proposition 209 has had a negative impact on minority contracting,” Villaraigosa said then. “It has had a serious negative impact on opportunity in California.”