csublede.jpgFederal Grant Would be Yanked if “Local Preferences” Included, Bids Rushed Out

The massive Central Subway project promises to bring jobs and money to Chinatown, before and after the 1.7-mile subway that will link CalTrain to Stockton Street is completed. Yet there’s no guarantee that any of those jobs are going to people who live in the neighborhood or anywhere else in San Francisco, despite tough local-hire laws slated to go into effect March 25.

The Municipal Transportation Agency claims that the city’s local-hire laws could threaten federal funding and jeopardize the entire project, a spokesman said Wednesday, even as local hire advocates call the MTA’s claims bogus.

The city’s just-passed local hire laws, which go into effect in three weeks, require that 20 percent of workers hired on projects that use city funds be San Francisco residents (that’s just in the first year; each year the figure increases by five percent to a ceiling of 50 percent by 2018).

Federal grants account for over $1 billion of the Central Subway’s $1.7 billion overall cost, but about $153 million is local, according to recent estimates, meaning the Central Subway Project would be subject to local hire restrictions.

If, that is, the transit agency waited three weeks to put the first project — the three-year, $225 million effort to dig the 1.7 mile tunnel — project out to bid, which it did not. Late Tuesday, the agency issued an Request For Proposal on its Web site, leaving local politicians and advocates questioning the MTA’s motives.

“The fact that their RFP does not mention the new local hire standards, even though we are three weeks away from implementation, makes me scratch my head and wonder if they’re following the spirit of the law,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who authored the local hire laws and suggested that the MTA rescind the bid and reissue the RFP once local hire laws are enacted.

That won’t happen, according to MTA spokesman Paul Rose, and for what he says is good reason: if the local hire rules applied, the Federal Transportation Agency could yank the $1.2 billion in promised federal cash, thereby running the risk of killing the entire project.

“The SFMTA advertised the Central Subway Tunnel contract based on a commitment it had made to the FTA that it would advertise the contract prior to the end of February 2011,” Rose wrote in an e-mail. “Failure to maintain the schedule may have an impact on federal funding.”

What’s more, Rose added, there’s language in the grant application which states “one of the conditions of the receipt and expenditure of grant funds for any particular project is that SFMTA not implement local preferences,” Rose wrote.

“A violation by SFMTA of this condition would seriously jeopardize its eligibility to receive federal funding, effectively preventing the successful completion of the project.”

Not that the MTA is unwilling to adhere to any hiring practices: bidders wishing to do the work on the Central Subway will need to submit a “Workforce Development Plan” that outlines how the bidder will comply with national, state and local equal employment rules, and federal workforce goals for women, poor people and minorities, Rose said.

Yet, advocates point out, the Oakland Airport – BART connector project received federal funding, and is subject to local hiring requirements — 25 percent by the city of Oakland, and 50 percent by BART.

In any case, there’s nothing that would prevent the MTA from voluntarily asking contractors to hire laborers who live in San Francisco, according to Joshua Arce, executive director of the Brightline Defense Project, which helped to craft the local-hire legislation.

“No one is asking MTA to delay the project, but we are asking them to voluntarily follow the City’s new local hiring law on the portion of this first contract that is funded by San Francisco taxpayers,” Arce told the Appeal.

“The next phase of Central Subway is the $168 million Union Square/Market Street Station and I think we need to see a new era of initiative and transparency at MTA before that contract goes out for bid at the end of the year.”

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