By Khaled Dawoud
San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, July 2, 1999
A San Francisco supervisors' committee voted yesterday to make the long
list of minority groups who get preferences for San Francisco city contracts
a little longer by adding Iranian Americans to those eligible for a leg
The words affirmative action are never used at City Hall these days,
because most such government practices are illegal in California since
the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996. And as they did yesterday, the
supervisors acted only after a city Human Rights Commission study showed
that ethnic Iranians are underrepresented in city contracting and have
By being covered under the law, the Iranian Americans, who also call
themselves Persian Americans, after the traditional name for Iran, would
get preferences in city contracts for supplies, services, consulting and
for subcontracts on big projects.
"It is not in the purview of this committee to legislate an end
to discrimination," said Supervisor Mark Leno as the Small Business,
Economic Vitality and Consumer Services Committee passed the expansion
of the preference law. "But we can level the playing field."
Before voting, the committee heard testimony from Iranian American businesspeople
who said they suffer from bias.
Although many of them are refugees from the fundamentalist Muslim regime
in Tehran that the U.S. government has repeatedly tagged as terrorist,
the local Persians feel people see them as terrorists. Many people also
mistake them for Arab Americans, a ethnically separate group that is already
covered by the local preferences.
Mehrdad Javaherian, who operates a small environmental consulting firm,
said the mistaking of Iranians for Arabs hurts him in trying to get business
with the city. "I have been approached by large companies who think
not only can I do the work but I can also help them fulfill the city's
minority contracting requirements," Javaherian said. "So at the
last minute they exclude me because they find out I am not an Arab, so
I can't help them."
The commission study found more than 70 Iranian American businesses
in the city. They got 0.002 percent, or $468,525, of the $2.3 billion in
contracts awarded by the city in fiscal 1996-97, it reported. The full
board will vote on the legislation, sponsored by Supervisor Amos Brown,
at its meeting Tuesday.
If the Persians are added, they will join Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders,
Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Southeast Asians, Korean Americans,
Filipinos, Asian Indians, African Americans, Latinos, Arab Americans, Native
Americans, nonminority women and locally owned businesses in getting preference
points when bidding on city work. In all, 1,663 firms have been certified
to be eligible for preference.
K.S. Jahan Giri of the Alliance Against Defamation of Iranians said
San Francisco's pending legislation is the first of its kind to protect
Persian Americans. But he said his group and others are working to be recognized
by other cities and states. He estimated that there are up to 1 million
Iranian Americans, with the largest concentration, about 300,000, in the
Los Angeles area. Giri estimated there are about 100,000 in the Bay Area,
congregated mainly around San Jose.
He put San Francisco's Persian population at about 10,000. The city's
preference system, extended for five years last autumn, has withstood two
legal challenges since Prop 209 passed, the city attorney's office said