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Contractors seek to trouble waters under Long Beach bridge


A local organization–the Young Black Contractors Association Inc.–is threatening to “occupy” the Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach today. A press conference is set for 9 a.m.

A flier the organization sent out claims that “The Gerald Desmond Bridge Project Must Be Stopped.”

The bridge, according to the Port of Long Beach website, “is a vital link in the nation’s trade system and a major commuter corridor. But the bridge, built in the 1960s [it was opened in 1968], was not designed to handle today’s traffic volumes and is deteriorating.” A federally funded project to replace the bridge is estimated to cost almost $1 billion.

“The reason we’re so irate about this is because there are no provisions for local people–contractors, minority contracts and small businesses,” said Drexell C. Johnson, founder and executive director of the Young Black Contractors Association. According to Johnson, the certification amount is only 10 percent, meaning that only 10 percent of the people the major contractors have to hire must be local.

“This is not right,” said Johnson. “Long Beach is one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the country. It’s sad for us not to have all the stuff we’re supposed to have.”

The flier also says, “YBCA contractors will no longer be extorted/exploited in their own front yards. Such a small percentage of UDBE [Underutilized Disadvantaged Business Enterprise] businesses is disrespectful, racist, mean-spirited and totally unacceptable.” The organization claims there are no provisions for small businesses, local businesses, at-risk businesses and minority businesses.

When Our Weekly made attempts to question Port authorities about whether they knew about the demonstration, a telephone spokesman said he was not at liberty to divulge any information concerning it. He referred the writer to the human resources department, but would not divulge the department’s number or transfer the call. When the reporter called Long Beach Civil Service to get the human resources number, the receptionist said she did not have the number and referred the caller back to the Port number he had originally called. The caller was then transferred to a voicemail.

The Port website carries a months-old announcement about a federal pre-proposal conference for subcontractors, suppliers and sub-consultants that was set for Oct. 4, 2011. It says the four-year project would have an 11 percent goal for UDBE.

“That’s insulting,” said Johnson. “That’s ridiculous. It’s too dadgum low. The most poverty-stricken area in America and we’re going to do 11 percent? We get a little bit when they say 30 percent, but when they say 11 percent we don’t get nothing.”

The YBCA flier also states that its “survey shows that Black contractors are awarded less than one-seventeenth of 1 percent of public works projects on highways, bridges, airports, underground and railways, although African Americans are 23 percent of taxpayers.”

The proposed replacement bridge is projected to generate 4,000 jobs over a five-year period. Four construction companies will submit bids–Dragados USA Inc., a general contractor, highway, street and bridge construction company based in Spain; Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., of Kapolei, Hawaii; Shimmick Construction Co. Inc., of Hayward, Calif., a general engineering contractor, and Skanska USA of New York.

“Although safe for regular traffic, port officials said that the bridge is now deteriorating,” reported Monday’s Long Beach Press-Telegram. “CalTrans has ruled that it needs replacement.

“In fact, last week, port officials approved $255,000 for potholes, adding to a tab of $2.1 million in repairs to the bridge.

“The new bridge will feature an added lane in each direction, for a total of six lanes.

“The new bridge–expected to get under way in early 2013–would be constructed in phases. It will be built next to the existing bridge, which will be demolished once the new structure is finished.

“Port officials estimate that the construction spending would generate economic activity of $2.8 billion in the Southland.

“In August 2010, port authorities approved Long Beach’s largest infrastructure project in a generation with plans to replace the Gerald Desmond Bridge. It took a decade to work out the details and secure funding for the project.”

A Nov. 10 article in the Los Angeles Times noted that “The ships that now frequent the nation’s second-busiest seaport are so big that many cannot fit under the bridge. Port officials estimate that the bridge carries 15 percent of the nation’s cargo that moves by sea and truck, yet the traffic lanes are often jammed and any accident sends vehicles into adjacent neighborhoods.”

Johnson said he and his group plan to “get out there and make our statement for a couple of days. We want them to know we’re serious about what we want for our neighborhood. We’re sick and tired of them coming in and raping and pillaging.”

The YBCA is the local chapter of the National Black Contractors Association, a confederation of mostly independent organizations that fight for the rights of minority contractors and construction workers.

It’s not only the Port that Johnson and the YBCA have issues with. “For 12 years we’ve been trying to get Black people hired on with the public utility companies, but we’re just starting to make that happen,” he said.