By Lee Hubbard
In a strange turn of events, a San Francisco Black contractor, who had been awarded the right build the Bay View Hunters Point library at Third and Revere Streets, lost the Department of Public works contract over a minor infraction.
Willie Ratcliff, owner of Liberty Builders, had been awarded the $5.1 million dollar bid to build the library, the first contract awarded to a Black general contractor in over a decade.
But two months after the contract was awarded, it was rescinded and awarded to KCK builders, when Ratcliff submitted his commercial auto policy a day late after the city notified him that it was missing.
“They had no reason to rescind the offer,” said Ratcliff. “We had a good bond offer, and everything was in order except the insurance certificate. When I found out it was missing, I had the insurance company send the certificate to the city, but they sent it in a day late.”
In the bidding on the contract for the library, he won the contract over KCK builders, entering a bid that was $300,000 lower than the one submitted by KCK. According to Ratcliff, the way his company was taken off of the job, which has not yet started, is symbolic of how public works contracts in San Francisco tend to exclude Blacks.
“They were just trying to find a way to get rid of him,” said Joe Debro, president of the Bay Area Black Builders.
“He was a day late in showing an insurance certificate, and they nullified his bid. I can’t believe it,” he said.
An onslaught of community support, pushing for the hiring of a Black contractor, led up to the awarding of the contract to Liberty Builders. There were four bidders on the project, but Ratcliff’s team, which included engineering subcontractor Fred Jordan and construction Manager Willie Robinson, won the bid.
“They were pressured to award Ratcliff the contract by the community,” said Debro. “He also had the lowest bid, so they did not have a choice but to select Ratcliff.”
Debro said that he was especially troubled by the selection of KCK to build the library. “Looking at their previous work, they do not have a history of working with Black subcontractors,” he said. “This was brought to DPW’s attention.”
A call was put into Director of Public Works Edward Reiskin and Fuad Sweiss, the Deputy Director for Engineering and City Engineer, to comment on the ruling, but they did not return calls at press time.
Ratcliff and Debro said that Blacks will protest the building of the library, until changes take place. “We are not going to let anyone else build the library,” said Debro. “We will protest and just shut the job down. We have experience doing that.”
“When they try to start, we will stop them,” said Ratcliff. “We will not let them do anything out here.”