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REBUILDING LOS ANGELES : Picking Up the Pieces : Black Firms Team Up on Reconstruction Work : Riot damage: A group of clergy backs the contractors' effort to win bids that would create jobs for inner-city residents.


Seeking to bring badly needed jobs to their area's residents, religious leaders and black-owned contractors from southern Los Angeles have banded together to pressure damaged businesses to award the contractors post-riot construction work.

More than two dozen black-owned contractors have formed a corporation, called United Minority Contractors, seeking to boost their chances to receive potentially lucrative post-riot construction work. The contractors are backed by an influential group of 400 Baptist ministers, who plan to picket work sites where black-owned firms are not employed.

The ministers say construction jobs for southern Los Angeles residents are an essential first step toward rebuilding the area, where it is estimated that half the men are unemployed. Rev. F. G. Higgins, president of the 400-member Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Vicinity, warned that a failure to include blacks in the rebuilding could push frustrations in the community to the breaking point.

"There is an undercurrent that is still very explosive," Higgins said. "To have unemployed people stand by and watch while outsiders rebuild stores . . . there is no telling where the frustration will lead."

With damage estimates in excess of $750 million, the rebuilding of riot-torn areas represents an enormous windfall to the recession-battered construction industry. Within southern Los Angeles, construction work is looked upon as a golden opportunity to provide sorely needed jobs, particularly because it does not appear that any federal or state job creation program is in the works.

"Construction is the key feature in rebuilding South Los Angeles," Higgins said. "You talk about healing Los Angeles. The healing of South Los Angeles cannot begin unless blacks and minorities are included in the rebuilding."

The coalition is moving quickly to get its message out before contracts are awarded. Though a scattered number of stores have reopened, most businesses are still in the process of assessing the damage and awaiting insurance adjustments.

Higgins said he has received complaints that southern Los Angeles contractors were not given a shot at much of the demolition work that is already underway. Higgins said firms tearing down buildings on Vermont Avenue--one of the most heavily damaged areas--are from the San Fernando Valley and Orange County. He declined to name the firms or identify the job sites.

Meanwhile, southern Los Angeles demolition firms said their equipment was idle for lack of work. Calvin Taylor, president of Taylor Wrecking Co., said five of his wrecking trucks sat in his lot Friday while a demolition company from outside southern Los Angeles tore down a large grocery where Taylor used to shop, two blocks away.

Taylor said he has canvassed the neighborhood attempting to solicit business, but so far has his only contract is from Los Angeles County for tearing down one store. He said the contract is worth less than $10,000.

Taylor said he did not believe that black contractors were being treated fairly by business owners and that, as a result, neighborhood residents were going without jobs. He said that if his trucks were busy, he could put 20 people to work "in minutes--a phone call is all it would take."

So far, the only major company to express interest in hiring minority contractors is Arco, which plans to restore damaged gas stations, said Dasol Mashaka, one of the organizers of the contractor coalition and project manager at Montgomery & Sons, a general contractor in southern Los Angeles.

Echoing the sentiment of other contractors, Mashaka said, "If the business owners don't hire us, they are not creating a very good environment to do business. If they don't hire people from the community, why should the community support their store?"

Mashaka's firm is among those that have banded together to form United Minority Contractors to bid for large construction jobs that they would not otherwise get financing for. That is a radical departure from their old ways of doing business.

A nonprofit corporation, United Minority Contractors will match up contractors wishing to pool resources to make specific bids. In addition, United Minority will guarantee completion of the work of its members, Mashaka said. For example, if an electrical contractor who is a member of United Minority cannot get a job done for whatever reason, another electrical contractor will step in and finish the work.

While United Minority is open to any minority contractor, over 90% of its 30 members are black. The rest are Latino, said contractor Arnic Robinson, one of United Minority's co-founders.

By forming the ventures, black contractors hope to show banks and insurance companies that they have the financial resources to qualify for all-important construction financing and performance bonds. While equipped to do the work, black contractors say they have trouble getting financing because their firms are small--and, in some cases, barely profitable.

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