Faced with a report that showed more than 900 exemptions to its anti-apartheid ordinance, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday began efforts to tighten its 3-year-old law aimed at limiting city commerce with firms that do business with South Africa.
On a motion by Gloria Molina and Robert Farrell, the council placed a 30-day moratorium on any further exemptions to the ordinance.
"We are not going to support anyone who supports a racist government," said Molina, referring to the South African government's policy of having laws that separate its white minority and its black majority.
During the moratorium period, various council committees have been directed to review the existing law and city purchasing practices to determine whether changes should be made.
The city's selective purchasing law, like those in other cities and states throughout the nation, was intended to persuade companies to drop their ties to South Africa as part of a broad economic boycott intended to bring pressure on the government to drop its policy of apartheid.
Most of the exemptions to the Los Angeles law--totaling millions of dollars--have been granted by purchasing agents in the city's various departments.
Exempted products have ranged from computer parts to pickup trucks, vacuums and concrete.
Under provisions of the law, companies can be awarded contracts if they are the sole source of a product or service, the cheapest source by 5% or more, or are the only company that bid on a particular contract.
But even within those guidelines, there are judgment calls.
For instance, paint-maker Sherwin Williams was exempted as a sole-source provider, according to a report by the chief administrative officer.
One city official, who asked not to be identified, said it likely was because that company made a particular color or paint already used by the city, and workers were unable or unwilling to mix their own.
The eventual compromise--to eliminate exemptions for 30 days while studying the issue--came after Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores said rewriting the law may be a more effective means of dealing with the apparent loopholes.
Councilman Hal Bernson, who urged a "no" vote on a ban of exemptions, said the city's ability to supply services might be seriously jeopardized if key products and services could not be readily obtained.
Farrell said other providers can be found. He suggested that new regional and local companies might spring up to take the place of the multinational corporations that are now winning city contracts.
Flores and Bernson voted against the 30-day ban, but all 14 members present approved the committee study. Councilman Richard Alatorre was not at the meeting.