SF Weekly, "Bay Area Cracks Down on Businesses Building Wall" - March 23, 2017

“We need longer tables,” Bartlett says, “not higher walls.”

The gravy train of government money for contractors who help build President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall is about to gush cash. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Customs and Border Protection posted a pre-solicitation notice for construction bids on Feb. 24, and starting in mid-April, the agency will award contracts for as much as $21.6 billion, according to government reports obtained by Reuters.

Even in our Trump-bashing Bay Area bubble, contractors and tech firms cannot resist the lure of government cash. According to the business website FedBizOpps.gov, more than 20 registered Bay Area vendors have been added to an “Interested Vendors” list to build the wall.

The term “Interested Vendors” is applied pretty loosely: Just clicking on an Add Me button would get your company included on this list. It’s entirely possible some of these businesses have no intention of submitting a prototype and are just listed because someone made an exploratory click.

But the backlash against these companies is already significant, and none returned requests to comment for this article.

Many of the vendors listed as interested fit the bill for the type of company that would help build the wall, as their field of expertise is specific to U.S. government infrastructure contracts.

For example, Oakland’s Shimmick Construction Company is the same company that was awarded the $52 million contract to build the West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station, and a joint venture of theirs was also recently awarded the project to build a suicide barrier on Golden Gate Bridge. T. Y. Lin International is a San Francisco construction and engineering firm that served as the lead engineer for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

Also listed are Drill Tech Drilling & Shoring, an Antioch-based subcontractor that worked on improvements to the Caldecott Tunnel, and San Rafael’s Martinez Services, civil and structural engineers who do a great deal of federal government business — and who’ve acknowledged their interest in the project to the San Jose Mercury News.

A handful of Bay Area tech startups are also lining up. Richmond’s Simularity Inc. provides artificial intelligence for predictive analytics and claims they can build a “cyber wall” that uses satellite imagery and drones more effectively than a brick-and-mortar barrier.

But some of the “Interested Vendors” are not even vendors, they’re definitely not interested, and they don’t even know why they’re on this list. The database hilariously includes an “American Steel Studios, LLC” of Oakland. Yes, that American Steel — the same one that hosts parties during the Oakland Art Murmur and serves as a workspace and warehouse for Burning Man art cars.

SF Weekly was unable to get comment from American Steel, but a representative from the artist collective told the East Bay Express that they are not supporters of the wall; they were simply researching the project for information and somehow ended up on the Interested Vendors list.

Repercussions are already beginning to mount. The City of Berkeley has the distinction of being the first U.S. city to formally divest from any company helping to build the wall. The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution at its March 14 meeting that declares the city will not do any new business with companies involved with building the wall.

“California is the sixth-largest economy in the world. That is because we are inclusive, we believe in inclusion and opportunity,” Councilmember and resolution co-author Ben Bartlett told SF Weekly. “This wall is not only divisive, it’s counterproductive to our economic goals as a state. And it’s morally corrosive.”

Oakland and San Francisco are considering similar measures. San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced a measure to ban any further city business with contractors involved with building the border wall. Oakland’s City Council is considering a measure that is not a full divestment, but would prohibit the city from entering into or renewing contracts with any companies involved with building the wall.

It remains to be seen whether these local measures have any impact on companies’ willingness to take lucrative government contracts to build Trump’s wall. But these various California measures underscore the state’s eagerness to enforce financial consequences against those who do.

“We need longer tables,” Bartlett says, “not higher walls.”