Black contracts make up 16.5 percent of Oakland's contractors. They receive roughly 6.5 percent of small contracts under $50,000, and for large bids, if any at all. Multimedia mix by Ark Republic. Photo credits: Kevin Greive and JD Doyle on Unsplash

Black contractors say that Oakland’s new business initiative leaves them out of city contracts

In Oakland, Black lives matter, but African American contractors’ complaints of being locked out of bids show that their businesses do not.

The San Francisco Bay View reported that the city council unanimously passed the Local Business Empowerment Through Contracting ordinance in February, but Black contractors have not received any of the available contractors.

While the local legislation aimed at more equity in city contracting. “It’s a whole community being left behind,” said Bendu Griffin, president of Tonma, a management consulting firm in Oakland, and the former president of Oakland’s Black chamber of commerce and research.

In the City of Oakland 2017 Race and Gender Disparity Study, it reported that “In 2019, African American construction contractors willing to contract with the City account for 16% of the construction businesses in the City but receive less than 1% of the total dollars.”

In the report, a minority male contractor described why African American contractors received less than 1 percent of the City’s contracts from a findings in a study during July 1, 2011 to June 301, 2016.

“It has always been extremely difficult for black companies or companies of color to get government contracts. But after proposition 209, the City’s policies and procedures changed drastically, so now there’s a lot of pushback.”

| Read: Artists: The last disruptors of Oakland

Mural in Oakland. Photo credit: Corleone Brown of Unsplash.

Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative passed in 1995, is legislation designed to prohibit state governmental institutions from using race, sex, or ethnicity, in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education.

The contractor also said that after Prop 209 was passed, senior Black officials were either fired or forced from their positions. “When you have a situation where companies have been historically oppressed and denied access, and when they start making a little leeway, they turn back the clock,” he said.

The current ordinance in Oakland seems to be a road paved with good intentions, but rife with potholes of bad processes. “The city’s process is not contractor-friendly,” said Eddie Dillard to Local News Matters. Dillard is the former president of the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce. He also said that the City “does a very poor job of outreach” by not advertising in a timely manner nor does the government use minority newspapers about the opportunities, nor do they have a staff with strong relationships with minority businesses.

The frustration builds up more as the US opens back up to show a thriving redevelopment in many cities including Oakland. But contractors are passed the photo opportunities from city council members and talk. “So far we’ve had a bunch of meetings,” said general contractor Mario Wagner of RF Contractors in Oakland to Local News Matters. But the meetings are not producing jobs.

Oakland was one of the cities that Ark Republic covered in its major collaborative project on gentrification. Historically, Oakland had a visible and prominent African American community that has been pushed out over the last several decades; especially, during the Silicon Valley boom. When tech monoliths such as Alphabet/Google, Facebook and Apple settled in the Bay Area, Oakland’s housing and commercial real estate became unaffordable for the regular BIPOC Oaklander.

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