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Legal Fears Surround Vote To Defy Prop. 209
January 29, 1998


Thursday, January 29, 1998
Section: News
Page: A04
Scott Andrews

RICHMOND - In defiance of state Proposition 209, the City Council decided unanimously Tuesday to maintain an affirmative-action program that gives preferential treatment to woman- and minority-owned contractors and subcontractors.

The move, which council members said is necessary to counteract discrimination, came in stark contrast to the county government's unanimous decision last year to abandon its much weaker affirmative action program.

The city's vote may make it a target of expensive lawsuits from people seeking enforcement of Prop. 209. The initiative, passed by California voters in 1996, bars government agencies from giving preferential treatment to any race or gender in education, hiring and contracting.

Richmond is facing a $3.1 million deficit next year, making the possibility of major litigation unusually threatening. Fearing such lawsuits, top city administrators advocated suspending the system of preferences.

City Councilwoman Lesa McIntosh, an attorney and chairwoman of the council's Affirmative Action Committee, said the decision took into account legal liability but also was based on social justice.

"Minorities and women have made so few gains in the city of Richmond, even with the preference points. To eliminate them would be to take the teeth out of the affirmative action program," she said.

Councilman John Marquez said a factor in his decision was Richmond residents' 73 percent vote against Prop. 209. Richmond residents are 44 percent black, 36 percent white and 12 percent Asian.

Councilman Tom Butt expressed more worry than the other six council members who voted.

"I think we're probably going to be sued and lose a lot of money," he said, adding that he would nevertheless support the program because of Prop. 209's local unpopularity.

Supporters of Prop. 209 criticized the council's decision.

"Certainly they are opening themselves up to liability," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Michele Justin. The foundation is suing San Jose for continuing a less stringent affirmative action program.