San Diego residents are still not building most of the local school district’s large construction projects as hoped, and a goal for hiring local residents to build 70 percent of large jobs is now further away than it was five years ago, according to new data released this year.

Even so, leaders who put the local hiring goals in place say they are unconcerned with the shortcomings. One called the targets aggressive and singled out the district resident goal as unrealistic.

Under a project labor agreement the San Diego Unified School District signed with area labor unions in 2009, local workers and not out-of-towners would build all of the school district’s bond-funded projects over $1 million.

More specifically, 100 percent of workers would live in San Diego County, at least 70 percent would be district residents and 35 percent would come from the district’s poorer neighborhoods. According to the district, that includes southeastern San Diego and Barrio Logan, as well as downtown, Normal Heights, City Heights, North Park, South Park, Clairemont and some other areas.

Both the district’s Proposition S and Z bond programs — totaling $4.9 billion — are subject to the deal.

But now, more than eight years since Prop. S was passed by voters, those local worker targets remain out of reach. Numbers released Jan. 5 to the district’s citizen’s bond oversight committee show some targets are slipping slightly further away as more large projects are built.

Though 95.9 percent of the 7,411 workers San Diego Unified used on 95 large construction jobs since 2009 live somewhere in San Diego County, just 37.6 percent live in the district and only 26.8 percent live in the district’s poorer communities, according to corrected district totals that account for math errors discovered on district reports. The district confirmed the errors.

That means the bond program is missing the district resident mark by more than 32 percent, and the targeted ZIP code mark by more than 8 percent.

Last February, the numbers weren’t much different at 96 percent, 37.9 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively, when just 75 projects and 5,926 workers were included in the count. Records show no substantial percentage increases have occurred in the last five years.

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Though officials are failing to move the needle, those who put the targets in place told me they’re proud of the progress, especially when it comes to the district’s neediest neighborhoods.

“When we pay for projects to be built,” said school board president Richard Barrera, “we want to see our communities benefit from that investment.”

“I absolutely believe that the PSA has been a tremendous success in opening up opportunities to people in our high poverty communities who have been neglected,” said Barrera, who works as a labor organizer in San Diego and has long championed union causes.

While negotiating the deal in 2009, Barrera said leaders looked at labor pacts elsewhere in the state and usually saw a 20 percent community hiring goal, not 35 percent.

“I think it was the most aggressive project labor agreement that had been set with local hire goals at the time,” Barrera said. Current worker numbers reflect “tremendous work.”

Still, “The districtwide numbers were clearly not a realistic challenge,” Barrera said. He also said that increasing the district resident worker numbers was unlikely.

“To go beyond where the construction workers already live to increase percentages requires outreach and targeting, and that’s been focused on the targeted ZIP codes,” he said.

“Goals are exactly that — goals. They are aspirational,” Tom Lemmon, head of the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council and a project labor agreement signee, wrote in an email.

The fact that 1,988 people have been employed from targeted district neighborhoods to date shows “the agreement has done its job and provided an incredible amount of career opportunities for district residents to work on its projects and that is un-refutable,” Lemmon wrote.

“These workers are earning living-wage jobs that provide health care and pension benefits,” Mike Magallanes, another project labor agreement signee as a representative of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said in an email. “These are well trained apprentices being given an opportunity to improve their skills and work close to home.”

Magallanes, also a member of the district’s citizens’ bond oversight committee, said going forward, “we are working to provide more opportunities for local residents, particularly students of San Diego Unified and their families, with careers in the building trades.”

Both Barrera and Magallanes said the local hiring numbers would be worse if not for the labor pact.

“In the absence of such agreements, the contracting community does a pretty poor job of hiring local workers,” Magallanes said.

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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