HSR faces civil rights complaintBy Zusha Elinson
The state's much-slapped-about high-speed rail project received another black eye Wednesday as minority contractors filed a civil rights complaint.
The California High Speed Rail Authority is in the business of "largely excluding minority-owned businesses from the contracting opportunities that the project brings," according to a complaint filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Wednesday.
The authority shot back that it's been following the law when handing out contracts worth hundreds of millions so far.
"California's high-speed train project is and has been in full compliance with the law," said Valerie Martinez, a spokeswoman for the authority. "Our contracts are awarded in a very public and transparent manner by our board, in public meetings."
The civil rights attorneys want their claims investigated before the feds start doling out money to the project, which has a $43 billion price tag. They're no doubt betting on the Obama administration's friendlier view toward so-called Title VI complaints. It was a similar civil rights complaint that caused the feds to withhold millions from the Oakland Airport connector project.
According to the complaint, just 12 of the 134 contractors on the project so far are minority-owned companies.
"The California High Speed Rail Project is one of the most exciting projects of our time, promising to usher our State into the 21st Century of transportation access," Fred Jordan, who heads the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. "However, this $43 billion undertaking appears to not be for all the citizens of California, but for the middle class and a small group of large established companies. Minority owned business and small business have been almost totally left out of the planning, engineering and construction of this project."
The rail authority recently gave the go-ahead to begin construction on a 65-mile stretch of track in the Central Valley from Borden to Corcoran. It will cost more than $4 billion, and critics have called it the train to nowhere.
The project has also faced tough opposition - and lawsuits - from cities on the Peninsula that don't want the train whizzing through their downtowns.
And it's not just minority contractors that want to cut off federal funding. Republicans in the House have made noises about pulling back $2 billion in stimulus money headed for the high-speed rail project.
Copyright ©2010 Bay Citizen. Published 12/08/2010.