Minority report

A new study commissioned by Caltrans is expected to recommend that the state should again set goals for awarding a portion of federal transportation contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The findings are all but certain to be controversial because the inclusion of race and gender in state contracting was eliminated years ago by California voters.

The study, by BBC Research & Consulting, was initiated in the wake of a May 2005 district-court decision that required Caltrans and other state recipients of federal transportation money, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, to prove discrimination against minorities still exists in California.

In 1995, voters approved Proposition 209, which ended preferences for minorities in state hiring, contracts and education. But in contracts where federal dollars are involved, such as highway construction, airport expansion and other large transportation projects–contracts that are worth billions–courts have historically ruled in favor of some racial preferences. For nearly 25 years state transportation authorities have administered “disadvantaged business enterprise programs” to steer a federal goal of 10 percent of bids to small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses. Until last year, Caltrans also considered race in its DBE program.

“It was a program where we set a contract goal on the project and we asked bidders to seek out disadvantaged businesses to reach that goal,” said Olivia Fonseca, deputy director of civil rights for Caltrans. “Prime contractors provided good-faith efforts to include [minority- and women-owned] DBEs

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