Will Black Contractors Participate in Crenshaw Light Rail Project? 


The Crenshaw Light Rail route

With the name “Crenshaw” attached to a $2 billion project, it seems only natural that Crenshaw area and the surrounding communities would play a significant role in its all aspects of the development. But would they?

Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor

What is the MTA–the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and what does it do? It is the mass transportation system in Los Angeles County that operates the public rail and bus systems. The rail system that is presently being developed and runs through the African American community is the Expo Line and the Crenshaw Light Rail Project (CLRP).

Throughout the construction of the Expo Line, there have not been any major Black contractors involved even though Blacks attended all of the meetings and participated in the “conversation” about the Expo Line. The question that the Black community is presently asking is ‘Will the community suffer the same fate with the CLRP as it did with the Expo Line?

Here are some of the facts: Today at 9:00 am, the MTA Board of Directors will meet to approve the first major contract of a $2 billion outlay to be spent on the CLRP; Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (the only African American on the MTA board) has put forth a motion prior to today’s meeting to study a full subway on the 3-mile Crenshaw Blvd portion of the largest public works project in South L.A. history; the CLRP is the largest public works in the history of South Los Angeles and is designed to create about 7800 jobs; and MTA’s staff has proposed that a conceptual engineering contract be awarded to a team that consists of no African American owned businesses, no local businesses and no residents of the Crenshaw community.

About the possible lack of meaningful Black participation–beyond attending community meetings–in MTA’s Light Rail project in general, Candida Mobley, board member of the Black Business Association (BBA) stated, “This is a tiny piece of evidence of a systemic problem in the city of L.A., this is just one example. There are trillions of dollars of contracts and this is an example that point to the unfair procurement practices in the city of L.A. as it relates to small, local and disadvantages businesses. And the thing about it is, for too long government agencies have been able to hide under the shroud of Prop. 209 to say, ‘Well we can’t show favoritism to minority firms’.”

(Proposition 209–also known as the California Civil Rights Initiative–is a California proposition which was approved by the voters in 1996 and amended the state constitution to prevent public institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity).

Since the term “minority” was embodied, by inference, in Prop 209, Mobley was very specific about the term “minority.” She added, “I’m not talking about minority, I said ‘small, local and disadvantaged.’ Now if ‘small, local and disadvantaged’ happens to be minority, then so be it, by the grace of God.”

The California Friends of the African American Caucus, a grassroots organization that is bent on rallying the community and calling on elected officials to see that what happened with the Expo Line_is not repeated with the CLRP, put out a news bulletin directed to the MTA board members: “I strongly support the Ridley-Thomas subway motion. Please vote to provide the children at View Park Prep and Crenshaw High School the same level of safety as the children along the Wilshire corridor. The Crenshaw community deserves no less than a safe, fast, first class, 21st century rail line. Furthermore, transportation dollars should go towards improving traffic, not making it worse with street-level crossings on already congested streets. Thank you for your consideration.”

In past community meetings, the people of South Los Angeles considered the CLRP a significant victory but only from the vantage point of transportation especially when the MTA laid out the designated route and it included the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw area. Supporters in the community even said that by providing a mass transit system in the aforementioned area would serve an area traditionally underserved by the public rail system.

And when the line, starting from the Expo line was scheduled to run down Crenshaw Boulevard past Leimert Park and through Inglewood–with about 2 1/2 miles between 48th and 54th Street–Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called it a victory, promising to look for additional funding to “subwayize” the entire project.

But as Mobley added, “It will only change (contracts going to the Black contractors) when the people from the outside–small businesses has to force–our political leaders to change the language in the legislature so that the systemic unfair practices will cease to exist.”