A raucous meeting of the Environmental Sampling Project Task Force last Thursday was further disrupted when a city commissioner allegedly kicked an empty chair which in turn struck another chair occupied by a political opponent.
After a heated public comments period, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory consultant Owen Hoffman was about to give a presentation on tritium air monitoring stations when a woman in the audience began to interrupt the meeting.
The woman, Barbara George, president of Women’s Energy Matters, refused requests by members of the task force and the audience to be quiet.
According to witnesses, Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner Gordon Wozniak, who was also sitting in the audience, asked George to be quiet several times and finally told her to shut up in a loud voice. When she didn’t, Wozniak, who was seated two rows behind George, allegedly kicked an empty folding metal chair. The chair then struck the back of George’s chair, witnesses said.
According to a report from the Berkeley Police Department, George called police and said she was intentionally attacked. However, Wozniak said he never intended for the chair to strike George’s and only kicked the chair for emphasis.
“Each party had supporting witnesses,” the report read.
Berkeley Police issued Wozniak with a citation which he signed.
Woziak has been a lightning rod for controversy since City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque issued an opinion that he should resign from the CEAC because his job at LBNL, where he is a senior chemist, creates a conflict of interest. The CEAC considers multiple issues related to the lab.
Wozniak has refused to resign and the city is legally powerless to remove him. The City Council is currently considering enacting a new ordinance that would give it authority to remove commissioners under certain circumstances.
Wozniak, a longtime Berkeley resident who has served on several city commissions, has cooperated with the city attorney and the City Council in trying to reach a compromise.
Wozniak’s refusal to resign from the CEAC has infuriated members of the Commission to Minimize Toxic Waste and some other members of the CEAC. Two regular meetings of the committee have collapsed under the weight of confusion and acrimony since the city attorney issued her opinion.
The meeting, held at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, was scheduled to discuss a planned air monitoring system to measure the release of tritium – a radioactive isotope that can cause cancer if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin – into the air by the National Tritium Labeling Facility located at the Lab.
The Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, a community organization that largely consists of neighbors of the lab, has aggressively opposed the tritium facility. They have also actively campaigned for Wozniak's removal from the CEAC. George said she is closely associated with the committee.
One audience member, who asked not to be identified, said it did not appear that the kicked chair struck George's chair with much force. The witness also said George appeared to be fine immediately after the incident and it was only after someone told her a minute or so later that it was Wozniak who kicked the chair that she began yelling that she had been attacked.
George said she was in shock at first and it took several moments for her to realize she was injured. She said she drove herself to Alta Bates/Summit Medical Center where she was treated and released.
She said the doctor told her she was experiencing bruising and muscle spasms related to the trauma. “They told me to go home and ice the area and take aspirin,” George said. “They also recommended I go to counseling because of the attack.”
While out of town this weekend, Wozniak said the incident is clearly being blown out of proportion.