Issue of Minority Roles Blocks Bid for Collider : Assembly Fails to Act on Measure as Deadline Nears for State to Apply for Federal Project
California’s bid to land a $4.4-billion federal atom smasher project suffered a possibly fatal blow Tuesday night when Assembly Democrats refused a Republican-offered compromise on affirmative action goals for minorities and women.
After weeks of debating the relative merits of affirmative action goals, both sides were only a percentage point or so apart when Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) adjourned the lower house for the night without allowing a vote on legislation that officials say is needed for California to bid on the federal project.
The Senate passed the legislation 30 to 3, acting less than an hour after the Assembly adjourned.
U.S. Deadline Is Near
The action came on the eve of today’s 11 a.m. deadline set by the U.S. Department of Energy for accepting bids by states.
At issue were amendments to a bill authorizing a $560-million bond issue to finance the purchase of land and site improvements for the project to build the Superconducting Super Collider.
Assembly Democrats started out insisting on affirmative action goals that would steer 20% of the business spawned by the bond issue to firms owned by minorities and 20% to companies owned by women.
In the face of strong Republican opposition, Democrats retreated to a mix of 15% for minority-owned firms and 5% for women.
Republicans, after refusing to accept the reduced offer, came up with their own proposal--and it was approved by an Assembly-Senate conference committee made up of GOP and Democrat negotiators.
Both sides thought they had a compromise, but it fell apart shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday when Brown and other Democrats in the Assembly said they believed it did not go far enough. Estimates are that the proposal would have given about 14% of the business to women- and minority-owned firms.
Noting that the state already requires that minorities and women get a 16% share of prison and highway construction projects, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, a black Democratic legislator from Los Angeles who has been leading the fight for tougher affirmative action goals, blasted the compromise as “a step backward for the state.”
Republicans, in turn, accused Brown of constantly changing the rules of the game.
Assemblyman William P. Baker (R-Danville), a member of the conference committee and author of the compromise proposal, said, “This was all politics. This was pure Willie Brown politics and he killed the Super Collider.”
Earlier, Baker said, “The Republican Caucus is strongly against (affirmative action) goals, quotas, set-asides. We don’t think it is good public policy. . . . The bid should go to the lowest bidder qualified to do the work.”
Looking for Consistency
Brown, who is black, said that his conscience was clear. “I don’t think I was responsible for anything except trying to get a measure of affirmative action consistent with the commitment which we previously made on prisons and Caltrans.”
One of the “no” votes in the Senate was cast by Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), also black, who said in the Senate debate, “Any time we get into a project of this magnitude, we certainly need to write into it a stipulation that will give access to all of our citizens. No longer can we go into major long-range projects that are only reserved for Anglo, Protestant Americans. I will not stand by for that. I would rather see the whole proposal go down the drain than to write us out of this.”
Although Baker and some others were calling the state’s bid dead, supporters of the project said they hoped the Senate action would put pressure on the Assembly Democratic leaders to reconsider and act by today’s deadline.
Sen. John Garamendi, who carried the bill in the Senate, said after learning of the Assembly action that if the state does not submit a bid, “We become the laughingstock of the nation.”
The Assembly action caught Garamendi and other senators by surprise.
Senate Republican Floor Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, who sat in on a meeting held by Gov. George Deukmejian and GOP legislative leaders late Tuesday afternoon, said that when he left the meeting at 5:30 p.m. “I thought this was a done deal. We never expected the Assembly to just drop out and leave.”
The Department of Energy, responsible for siting the proposed atom smasher, has warned that today’s deadline is “firm” and no extensions would be made.
The project represents a financial bonanza for the state that is awarded the project. Officials estimate it will mean 3,000 permanent jobs and as many as 25,000 temporary construction jobs.
Many States in Contest
At least 30 different proposals are being made by other states. Illinois, New York, Texas and other states are among those in intense competition to win the project.
California’s bid proposal is contained in two 9-volume sets. It is offering two different sites, one near Davis, just west of Sacramento, and the other east of Stockton.
The actual bid proposal by California now is already in Washington, complete except for a cover letter authorizing its submission from University of California President David P. Gardner, chairman of the California Collider Commission.
The Collider Commission voted earlier not to submit the bid without legislative approval of the bond proposal.
The legislation approved by the conference committee was authored by Assemblyman Sam Farr (D-Carmel). In it, California would agree to issue $560 million in bonds to buy land and make sewer, highway and other site improvements necessary for the project.
The bid offered by Texas weighed in at 2,400 pounds and contains inducements valued at $700 million. The Illinois proposal totaled 600 pages. Ohio packaged its bid in 60 boxes.
The Department of Energy will ask the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate each bid. After the evaluations, a short list of finalists will be announced in December. The winner is expected to be selected next summer.
The super collider, as envisioned by the Deparment of Energy, will be constructed at least 50 feet underground. It will be a racetrack-like oval tunnel, 53 miles in diameter. When completed, it will be the world’s largest scientific instrument. It will use 10,000 separate magnets to propel protons near the speed of light to create controlled collisions.