LA’s minority-run architecture firms suffer under 20-year-old state law

Proposition 209, passed in 1996, has contributed to African American-run firms getting left out of the development boom, industry experts say
May 15, 2019 03:00PM

Architect Roland Wiley of RAW International and Ward Connerly of the American Civil Rights Institute

Architect Roland Wiley of RAW International and Ward Connerly of the American Civil Rights Institute

A two-decade-old statewide law intended to combat “reverse discrimination” in public institutions has contributed to a significant lack of minority representation in the architecture industry, despite the Los Angeles development boom.

None of the major real estate projects underway in L.A. have an African American-run architecture firm, according to a report in Commercial Observer.

Industry experts and even Ward Connerly, who championed the measure in the 1990s — called Proposition 209 — say it has contributed to minorities having been left out of L.A.’s major development projects, according to CO.

Prop 209 started as an effort to combat so-called “reverse discrimination” against white and Asian applicants by prohibiting preferential treatment for groups based on race or gender in public contracting. But many black-owned architecture firms in the 1970s through the 1990s benefited from those major contracts from public institutions, agencies and governments.

Smaller firms had worked as part of large public projects to get experience and remain competitive, and private firms knew in the 1980s that the city wanted some minority architects working on projects. Large developers would team up with those minority-run architectural firms for large-scale projects, but that preferential treatment ended with the passage of Prop 209 in 1996.

Connerly acknowledges the measure has been the most consequential to public contracting. Architect Roland Wiley, founder of RAW International, told CO that “black architecture firms have virtually disappeared and there are no major contracts that are being executed by black architects.” [CO]Gregory Cornfield