L.A. wants to know if city contractors are helping build Mexico border wall

Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo speaks at Los Angeles City Hall in June.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles lawmakers are pushing for city contractors to reveal whether they are helping to build a wall along the Mexican border, arguing that Angelenos deserve to know if firms are working on the polarizing project.

At a Tuesday meeting, the City Council voted to draft a law that would require companies seeking or doing business with the city to disclose whether they have contracts to help design, build or provide supplies for “any proposed border wall between Mexico and the United States of America.”

“We want to know if there are people who do business with the city of Los Angeles ... who wish to profit from building a wall that would divide us from our nearest and dearest neighbor Mexico,” Councilman Gil Cedillo said Tuesday.


It is the latest stand that L.A. lawmakers have taken against the policies of President Trump, who rallied supporters around building that wall during an acrimonious campaign. Trump and his supporters argue a wall would protect the country and combat crime by stopping people from crossing illegally.

Cedillo, who proposed the law, told reporters that the wall was “repugnant,” denouncing it as a racist and xenophobic plan that defied the values of Los Angeles.

“Immigrants are the foundation, here in Los Angeles, of our economy. They are tightly woven into the social fabric of this city. And you cannot separate them or divide their families here in this city without disrupting the character of this city,” Cedillo said.

The proposed law would not actually ban companies working on the wall from doing business with Los Angeles, but Cedillo described the rules as a deterrent and said he would vote against city contracts with such firms.

It could also mark a first step toward stricter rules: Cedillo and other city officials are seeking advice on whether L.A. can ban those firms or take other steps to avoid them, such as scoring them lower when they compete for city contracts, Cedillo spokesman Fredy Ceja said.

“We’re looking for guidance on what, legally, we’re allowed to do,” Ceja said.

Some California lawmakers are already trying to go further: State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has pushed to prohibit California from awarding contracts to companies that are providing goods or services to build a border wall. Lara argued that the purpose of the wall was “to spread hatred and division.”

“I don’t want to look back in 10 years and say Californians didn’t do everything we could to block the wall,” Lara said in a written statement.

Lara plans to continue pursuing the bill in the fall, with amendments meant to specifically target “prime contractors” rather than small businesses.

In Northern California, city officials in Berkeley and Oakland have also voted to steer clear of companies working on a border wall. Critics have argued that such boycotts are an overreach and not legally sound.

Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, denounced them as a kind of “purity test” that would discriminate against companies and ultimately hurt workers.

“Whatever your politics are on the border wall, punishing local workers is not the right way to go about expressing your opinion,” Turmail said.

“It opens up a Pandora’s box for other municipalities to start discriminating against firms that do work they find politically unpalatable,” such as building facilities for Planned Parenthood, Turmail added.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce has not taken a formal stand on the L.A. proposal, but its CEO Gary Toebben said that he personally felt a “litmus test” would set a bad precedent.

“There is no end to the number of legal, business or personal relationships that contractors could potentially be asked about or judged on that have nothing to do with the quality of their work,” Toebben said in an email.

Cedillo dismissed the idea that such political decisions were anything new, pointing to an earlier council decision to boycott Arizona after politicians there passed a law targeting immigrants in the country illegally.

L.A. lawmakers voted to draft the new rules 13-0, with Councilmen Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield absent. City lawyers must now draft the proposed law and bring it back to the council for approval.

“I do think that it’s important for us on this council to send a message as to ... what our values are and the type of people that we want to do business with,” Council President Herb Wesson said before the Tuesday vote.

The council has repeatedly staked out public positions in opposition to Trump and his policies, including backing a resolution asking Congress to investigate whether Trump should be impeached.

Twitter: @LATimesEmily