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Marines won’t practice in town

By Josh Parr Daily Planet Staff
Monday September 11, 2000

“Marines in Berkeley” sounds as unlikely as “tofu in Wichita.” But both exist. Or nearly – as in the case of the Marines.  

Mayor Shirley Dean said she was “quite surprised” to find that the Marines were considering a three-day military simulation in a West Berkeley warehouse belonging to Bayer Corporation.  

Designed to “seize a ‘terrorist’ who is believed to be occupying a hide site in an urban building,” the proposed war games would involve, “live fire with safety frangible ammunition or (paint balls), sound/light diversionary devices and a water explosive charge to breach an exterior door,” according to an Aug. 14 letter to the mayor from David Weber, the FBI’s liaison to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. 

Part of an overall effort to retrain the U.S. Marine corps to deal with urban environments and terrorism in particular, the letter also offered to allow the Berkeley police to use the site. 

“At the conclusion of the Marine training, we invite the host city SWAT team to conduct their own tactical training exercises,” according to the letter. “I must remind you, Mayor, that this training is in no way part of any point police/military training. Your SWAT team, however, would have the benefit of receiving unique and realistic training.” 

Dean said she wasn’t aware of the offer until she received the letter. 

“They had received permission from Bayer to run an operation on one of their warehouses and wanted to know if we would approve it,” she said.  

Bayer spokespeople could not be reached for comment, but did relay through an employee in the Human Resources Department that they would not issue a public statement on the matter. 

“Bayer’s warehouse was on a list of possible reserve sites,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

After receiving the letter, Dean quickly penned a reply. 

“While I understand the need for such training and appreciate your offer to provide special training to our police officers, I must inform you that I cannot support your request,” she wrote back. 

Last year, the Marines ran Operation Urban Warrior in the streets and hills of Oakland. While Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown brought $4 million into city coffers for opening the door to the military war games, he also reaped criticism from protesters who said they believed the show of force was aimed at them. 

Worthington, however, had his own gripe. 

“While I have no objection to the content of the mayor’s letter,” he said, “She’s overstepping the boundaries of her job. By sidestepping the City Charter, which more or less makes the mayor a ceremonial figure, she’s trying to take the role of the City Council. This city has a city manager/council form of government. It’s not the first time she’s acted this way.” 

Dean, on the other hand believes it was a decision completely within her jurisdiction. “The letter was clearly addressed to me, not the City Council,” she said.