SF construction boom overlooks residents

August 20, 2008 8:05:40 PM PDT
San Francisco is undergoing a construction boom. But some residents feel that fast-growing industry is passing them by -- and they are taking desperate measures to try to get the jobs, efforts that may be misguided.

The demonstration along Ocean Avenue is becoming a familiar sight. The young protesters are looking for jobs.

"It would help me make money and support myself, as well as keeping me busy and off the streets," Johnta Allen said.

Since last month, Allen and his friends have been protesting in front of a construction site in their neighborhood where they want to work. A library is being built on the site.

The young men are willing to do anything -- haul away debris, hand tools and equipment to the workers, they just want a job.

Mike Brown runs the organization Inner City Youth and is organizing the demonstrations.

"We want to have the city agency supplying the money to build this Ingleside library set aside jobs for members of this community," Brown said.

San Francisco does have a law that essentially requires many contractors to hire city residents for half of their work force; but they must be qualified to take part in the building boom. To help residents become qualified, the city offers the CityBuild program, a 12 week program that offers classes from math and English to hands-on construction skills. It is a partnership between San Francisco's unions, city college, community organizations and the mayor's office.

"It gives them a competitive advantage as San Francisco residents over anybody else because they've had the training that the city has invested in," Guillermo Rodriguez, CityBuild's director said.

Participants need to be 18-years-old or older, have a California driver's license, a high school diploma or G.E.D. and pass a drug test. A criminal record is not a barrier.

In its nearly three years of operation, CityBuild has had a 91 percent success rate, placing more than 200 students into union jobs, Rodriguez said.

But some residents still feel like there is a disconnect because people who want the jobs either do not know about CityBuild or do not take part.

"A lot of community people in the neighborhood feel like we've been under served," Gwendolyn Brown of Inner City Youth said.

Their message has been heard. City officials are holding a meeting on the issue Thursday.


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