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CodeNEXT Consultant Not Meeting Goals To Hire Women- And Minority-Owned Firms

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Austinites examine CodeNEXT maps at an open house held in May at Lyndon Baines Johnson Early College High School.

The California-based company hired to help rewrite Austin's land development code is not meeting contractual goals to hire local minority-owned and women-owned firms. 

The city’s contract with Opticos Design calls for about 32 percent of the consultant's work on CodeNEXT to be subcontracted out to minority- and women-owned businesses. The percentage goals are set based on a disparity study, which looks at the number of local businesses owned by women and minorities and the amount of available work with the city.  To date, a little more than 10 percent has gone to those firms.

“We don’t challenge them. We don’t do anything,” Austin City Council Member Ora Houston said earlier this month before the council voted to increase the Opticos' contract by $2 million to almost $8.5 million. “There’s nothing else that we can do, nothing else in our toolbox that can be done to say, ‘You’re still not meeting your goals.’ We just keep going along with them underperforming.”

Veronica Briseño, the director of Austin’s Small and Minority Business Resources Department, said Opticos is behind on its goals because there hasn’t been enough work to contract out.

“We can’t hold them accountable for scopes of work that don’t materialize,” she said.

She said Opticos is not violating the terms of the agreement as long as it shows it's hiring subcontractors when work is available. 

"The initial estimate of how much work we thought was going to materialize just didn’t materialize based on the direction this contract took," Briseño said.

Briseño said the city is working with Opticos to increase the amount of available work, but since the contract is already about four years in, those opportunities are limited.

Opticos did not respond to requests for comment.

The Austin City Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in April. 

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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