Office of Civil Rights
Message from Acting Assistant Director Sabrina Watts-Jefferson
Acting Civil Rights Assistant Director Sabrina Watts-Jefferson

Welcome to the Civil Rights newsletter. I am pleased to share this issue with you that contains a personal message from the Caltrans Director, as well as the following articles:

  • Office Name Change
  • Keep Goods Moving, While At Home
  • Equal Access for All
  • Moving into the Future

A Message from the Director
In early 2020, Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin worked with the Office of Civil Rights to publicly ask diverse subcontractors to get certified and rebuild California .
Office Name Change
Small Business Council Member Ezekiel Patten
By Erin von Tersch
Caltrans Civil Rights Business Development Manager

Did you know that Caltrans has an office dedicated to advancing equality in contracting and procurement for all people, regardless of race, sex, age, disability, national origin, and religion? It is the Caltrans Office of Civil Rights, named after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, during the last 10 years, it was known as the “Office of Business and Economic Opportunity” or “OBEO.” In 2008, a former California Agency Secretary led a movement to capture Caltrans small business activities and economic development in the office name. He acknowledged the disconnect between what civil rights symbolized, the struggle the civil rights movement played in history, and the capitalist nature of businesses. Two years later, in 2010, the name officially changed to the Caltrans OBEO.

Small Business Council Member Zeke Patten (pictured above) said he was surprised and dismayed when the change came. "Small Business Council members felt the original name was more descriptive of our purpose, which addresses and focuses on the needs and issues affecting small business owners who are veterans, women or part of an ethnic minority,” Patten said.

In 2019, Council member Patten talked with California Governor Gavin Newsom about changing the Caltrans office name back. At that time, former Tennessee Environment and Planning Deputy Commissioner Toks Omishakin replaced the retired Caltrans Director Laurie Berman.

At Omishakin’s first California Small Business Council Meeting in November 2019, Patten asked the new Director if Caltrans OBEO would return to the “Office of Civil Rights.”

Most other state’s parallel offices are named “the Office of Civil Rights,” as is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s parent office.

At the January 17, 2020, Small Business Council Meeting, Caltrans Chief Deputy Director Jim Davis announced that - if there were no objections - OBEO would change its name back to the Office of Civil Rights. The announcement was met with round of applause from the council.

Council member Paul Guerrero said, “It's a great move. Civil rights are what this group is all about.”

The return to the name “Civil Rights” is in recognition of the office’s core function of advancing equality in contracting and procurement opportunity for all people, regardless of race, sex, age, disability, national origin, religion, or other certain characteristics.

For more information, email
Keep Goods Moving - While At Home
By Erin von Tersch
Caltrans Civil Rights Business Development Manager
While the coronavirus was making its debut on the other side of the world in China, Caltrans was developing a Continuity Plan to determine how it could maintain and operate California’s vast transportation system during an unprecedented emergency.
California is the fifth largest economy in the world, carrying 40 percent of the nation’s imports to the rest of the United States. In the Continuity Plan, Caltrans had to determine what would happen if all 21,000 Caltrans employees had to work outside their regular buildings or maintenance yards.
The timing could not have been better.
On March 19, California Governor Newsom ordered Californians to “stay-at-home” to avoid catching what officials were calling the, “coronavirus,” a new disease that manifests in the lungs and can be terminal for anybody, but particularly those 70-years-old and older.

The Caltrans Information Technology Division had to determine how thousands of employees could perform their “mission critical essential function” from home and keep the Department’s Intellectual Property safe. More laptops were ordered, and a Virtual Private Network (VPN) system was expanded as statewide training and public meetings were canceled. Caltrans suspended homeless encampment clean ups for the time being.

The Department put public health information on the disease, Coronavirus or COVID-19, on its web pages as more was learned. “Wash your hands for 20 seconds, wear a mask and practice social distancing of at least six feet,” became frequent signs of the times. Suddenly meetings, like the Small Business Council, were no longer in-person. They were either virtual or postponed – in the hopes that the pandemic wouldn’t last long. Caltrans used teleconference lines, tinkered with Zoom, and settled on WebEx for its video-meeting platform of choice.

Caltrans Civil Rights kept disadvantaged small businesses aware of financial resources available to them during the pandemic. On April 8, Caltrans Office of Civil Rights sent a comprehensive list of COVID-19 financial resources to its database of certified Disabled Business Enterprises. More information was sent out when President Trump signed the second wave of resources on April 24, and on May 20, when Magic Johnson announced that he would give $100,000 to black-owned small businesses. July 1, Civil Rights alerted businesses that the deadline to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program was extended.
Since Caltrans Small Business Liaison Jessica Biro couldn’t hold in-person workshops, she organized a series of webinar tutorials for businesses interested in getting certified as a small, disabled veteran or disadvantaged business. She worked with industry partners and put them online at . Soon, the rest of the Caltrans Civil Rights team was collaborating on online videos.
The Federal government made an exception and allowed videos and teleconferences for business certification and awards. Also, the federal government secured masks and gloves for public transportation organizations.

Caltrans adjusted its permit processes to temporarily ease weight limits for trucks carrying essential goods into and around the state. The Department granted temporary permits for 18 food trucks to operate at select rest areas to provide hot, quick meal options for those moving important cargo that doesn’t fit through a fast-food drive through.
Caltrans seized on this unprecedented time of light traffic to expedite work on about 100 road projects, many in urban areas. The pandemic initiated positive process changes in Construction, including ticketless material deliveries. The expanding number of tools and technologies available, combined with lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic response, will lead to more innovations throughout the Department.
Through it all, Caltrans kept California’s roads open for commerce to flow to the rest of the state and beyond… because lives depend on it.

For more information, email
Equal Access for All
By Cathrina Barros
Caltrans Acting ADA Infrastructure Program Manager

Caltrans’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Infrastructure Program strives to give every person equal access to travel within California. The program is housed in Caltrans Office of Civil Rights to protect the Department’s most vulnerable users.

Most of California’s 50,000 lane-mile transportation system was built more than half a century ago, and many rural highways are historic main streets. Wheelchairs must often navigate newsstands and utility poles on minimal strips of uneven sidewalks between store fronts and cars whizzing by at upwards of 55-miles-an-hour.
A narrow business driveway is pictured off State Route 168 near Fulton St. in Bishop.
Caltrans modified a business driveway off State Route 168 near Fulton St. in Bishop to create a 50 inch wide ADA accessible pathway with a cross slope of less than 2 percent. This allows wheelchairs to safety navigate it.
Caltrans modified a business driveway off State Route 168 near Fulton St. in Bishop to create a 49.5 inch wide ADA accessible pathway, with a cross- slope of less than 2 percent. This allows wheelchairs to safety navigate it.
Photo Courtesy of Parsons, Inc.
In a 2010 lawsuit agreement with Californians for Disability Rights, Inc., and the California Council of the Blind, Caltrans agreed to spend $1.1 billion before 2040 to make sidewalks and curbs more accessible.

Caltrans owns 66,000 curb ramps and miles and miles of sidewalks along city highway right-of-way land. Ensuring that the transportation system complies with the ADA is an on-going endeavor. Each year, Caltrans dedicates a minimum of $35 million towards improving ADA access. Since 2010, Caltrans has spent more than $287 million on ADA improvements. In fiscal year 2018-19, Caltrans construction projects fixed more than 1,300 curb ramps and 12 miles of sidewalk, and 11 ADA improvement projects are scheduled to be delivered this fiscal year before June 30, 2020.
This picture shows a steep sidewalk slope on State Route 1 in Long Beach before Caltrans upgraded the alley sidewalk crossing and added sidewalk pads to warn visually impaired pedestrians of potential vehicle traffic.
State Route 1 near Long Beach Avenue in Long Beach. 
Caltrans upgraded the alley crossing to warn visually impaired pedestrians of potential vehicle traffic.
Here, on State Route 1 near Long Beach Avenue in Long Beach, Caltrans upgraded an alley crossing to warn visually impaired pedestrians of potential vehicle traffic.
This was a difficult fix because there was a very steep alley slope leading to SR 1. The alley right of way belongs to the city of Long Beach, so this project required coordination with the city, the utility company and the building owner to make this accessible amid utility lines, a retaining curb ramp and a very close privately-owned building. 
Photo Courtesy of Parsons, Inc.
Caltrans ADA Infrastructure Program works internally with the divisions of Project Delivery and Traffic Operations to ensure design standards, encroachment permit provisions and construction compliance all contribute to ADA-accessible infrastructure. These divisions have developed policy, design guidance and training to help educate Caltrans employees in the ADA standards and produce products that improve access to California’s disabled community.

ADA accessibility is the responsibility of Caltrans as an organization. The ADA Infrastructure Program in the Office of Civil Rights orchestrates Caltrans statewide efforts to ensure persons with disabilities can use California sidewalks and facilities with ease. The public can notify Caltrans of ADA access barriers at: .

For more information, email
Moving into the Future
Logo of Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
By Curtis Williams
Caltrans Acting Certification Branch Office Chief

Caltrans Office of Civil Rights is moving the certification application process into the 21 st century t o make it easier for disadvantaged businesses to compete with established firms for its transportation contracts.

Caltrans Civil Rights manually certifies disadvantaged business for the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. The program’s goal is to level the playing field for small businesses, whose owners who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities. A disadvantaged firm owner can be a woman, Black (African American), Hispanic, Native American, Asian-Pacific, or Subcontinent Asian-Pacific American and anyone who can prove individual discrimination.

Caltrans began certifying disadvantaged businesses in the late 1980s, after Congress required that at least 10 percent of all federal dollars used for highway and transit Federal financial assistance programs, be spent with disadvantaged businesses.

Since then, Caltrans certification staff have collected business owners’ tax and business information from hard copy forms and typed it into spreadsheets. This requires substantial labor hours and increases the potential for human error. Due to the number of documents required and the manual process, it could take months to become certified as a DBE firm. 

Looking forward, Caltrans will employ a software program called B2GNow to do the job more efficiently and accurately. This secure web-based program is hosted in the Cloud and is compatible with all standard browsers. At any time, business owners can update their contact information online. They can also upload unlimited number of documents to B2GNow. B2GNow will make reporting to internal and external stakeholders, California Unified Certification Program (CUCP) partners, and vendors quicker and easier.

Caltrans began looking into the automated data-gathering and tracking system in 2018. After an exhaustive search, Caltrans purchased the system in 2020. This year, Caltrans staff will be trained, and the system will be implemented by February 2021.

For more information, email
Caltrans Office of Civil Rights
1823 14th Street, MS 79
Sacramento, CA 95811