The true cost of local hire

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The true costs of local hire
Sarah Phelan
Giving more jobs to local residents like these pictured here is a benefit that needs to be to factored into the "true costs" equation

Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andy Ross are claiming it will cost $2.2 million annually to carry out Sup. John Avalos’ newly approved legislation that mandates local hire rates on city-funded construction projects,

And Human Rights Commission director Theresa Sparks is claiming it will actually cost $3 million to run the program.

Neither Sparks nor Matier and Ross are talking about the savings the program will create in terms of the need for less law enforcement, if more local residents are hired. Nor do they mention the economic benefit of tax payer dollars being funneled into the local economy, if more San Francisco residents are hired on city-funded construction projects.

As a result, their conversation sounds like an attack on local hire legislation that Sparks says she supports.

“Matier & Ross are about a million dollars off,” Sparks told the Guardian in a voice mail message three days after I first called asking if it was true that HRC was pissed that the Office of Economic and Workforce Development was being charged with monitoring Avalos’ newly approved program.

‘We tried to get them to leave it with us,” Sparks said, noting that HRC already has contract compliance officers overseeing every city contract.

"This will cost $2-3 million more, and it’s unnecessary,” Sparks continued, noting that during her (ultimately unsuccessful) D6 campaign she talked about “inefficiency in government” and here was yet another example of that very same wasteful phenomenon.

‘Rather than approve a project, the agency that creates a program wants to hire its own people and create a whole new infrastructure, “ Sparks said. “We tried to participate in the local hire ordinance, but we were excluded from all the meetings.”

Sup. John Avalos’ legislative aide Raquel Redondiez disagrees that Sparks was omitted from the discussion. And Redondiez has the emails to prove it.

In an Oct. 21 email sent to Redevelopment director Fred Blackwell, Rhonda Simmons in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and Sparks at HRC, six weeks before Avalos’ legislation passed on its first reading, Redondiez wrote that Avalos would like to meet with Blackwell, Simmons and Sparks.

“Supervisor Avalos would like to meet with your offices to learn about how current contracts are now tracked for local hiring, lbe [local business enterprises], and union hours,” Redondiez wrote. “As we move forward with the local hiring legislation, we would like to have a deeper understanding of the current tracking practices and possibilities.Please let us know when we can meet in the next 10 days.”

Redondiez email thread shows she got a reply from Guillermo Rodriguez in the Mayor’s Office the same day. But there was no reply from Sparks. Blackwell and Simmons attended local hire hearings at City Hall in November and December. This reporter does not remember Sparks at those hearings, but community advocates say they saw her outside at least one hearing, in November.

So, does this add up to HRC being deliberately excluded from the discussion about how best to monitor local hire, or something entirely different?

Community and worker advocates, who support the legislation, say they tried to reach out to Sparks, but got mixed messages. They say Sparks said she was supportive of the legislation, but that they were left with the impression that HRC wasn't interested in monitoring the program.

Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer of the Building Trades, which opposes Avalos’ legislation because it believes the measure will pit workers who live here against workers who don't, didn't sound like he was advocating to put HRC in charge of monitoring compliance with the mandatory local hire ordinance.
“There is a sense that HRC is about small business advocacy,” Theriault said.

Sparks hasn’t returned my latest call, but I'll be sure to post her comments here. So stay tuned as we follow the latest twist in the local hire debate. And don'tforget to tune in to tomorrow's Board meeting (Dec. 14, 2 p.m. at City Hall), when the local hire legislation has its second reading.