California High-Speed Rail Project Bypassing Minority Businesses?

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One of the largest public works projects in the country – the high-speed rail that will connect San Francisco and Los Angeles -- is leaving out minority-owned businesses, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The organization filed a civil rights complaint Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Transportation arguing that the California High Speed Rail Authority’s contracting practices “systematically exclude minority-owned businesses from equal opportunity.”

LCCR and a coalition of minority business owners is asking the federal government to investigate these contracting practices and suspend all federal funding to the high-speed rail project until the investigation is complete.

Almost half of the projected $43 billion cost of the high-speed rail is expected to come from federal agencies, according to Oren Sellstrom, an attorney with LCCR in San Francisco. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits federal agencies from engaging in unjust practices that exclude minority groups.

“We have analyzed 10 of the largest design contracts already awarded, cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Of 134 prime- and sub-consultants participating, barely a dozen are minority-owned firms,” Sellstrom told reporters in a press conference Wednesday.

The data on small businesses doesn’t look much better: Less than 4 percent of the more than $800 million in contracting funds awarded to date have gone to small or micro businesses.

“Minority communities are most impacted by this recession to start with,” noted Diana Lacombe, president of the National Concilio of America and president of the Associated Professionals and Contractors (APAC).

“We cannot have a recovery unless we get some of those recovery dollars into the communities,” added Frederick Jordan, president and chairman of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce.