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Businesses within city boycotted

By Hank Sims, Daily Planet staff
Friday October 19, 2001

Outsiders react to council’s anti- war resolution 


Berkeley business owners are condemning a council resolution, which, they say, has caused outside businesses to refuse to purchase goods and services from them. The resolution, passed Tuesday by a divided City Council, calls on elected officials to end the bombing of Afghanistan. 

Mayor Shirley Dean said Thursday that she and other members of the City Council have received a flood of e-mail opposing the resolution and stating that they will refuse to work with companies located within the city. 

Berkeley firms have already reported a loss in business, leaving the members of the council’s progressive faction, who supported the resolution, and the moderates, who opposed it, blaming each other for potentially huge economic losses. 

Many city officials fear a more organized national boycott of city businesses is imminent. 

Tsunami Visual Technologies, a Fremont-based video game component manufacturer, said it had canceled a $12,000 contract with Berkeley’s ID8 Media, a vendor of 3-D computer technology. Tsunami said because of the council’s action, it would award the contract to a San Francisco company. 

In addition, the Tsunami employee who wrote the letter said he would no longer patronize Berkeley restaurants. 

Fireside Thrift Co., a Pleasanton-based savings-and-loan company with over 40 offices, wrote to the mayor’s office asking for a clarification of certain aspects of the resolution. The company had been planning to hold its annual convention in Berkeley, but was reconsidering in light of the resolution. 

Ashby Lumber reported that one of its biggest customers canceled a contract for $60,000-worth of goods, and would not do business with the company again.  

Mike Fuller, Ashby Lumber’s operations manager, said the contractor who canceled the contract asked that his name not be released to the press. Fuller did say, though, that it was one of the larger and better-known Bay Area construction companies, and that it is currently contacting other contractors in order to organize a boycott. 

“When someone who’s been working with us for 10 or 15 years says that he’s not coming in anymore, that hurts,” said Fuller. 

“This guy loves our service. He told us, ‘It’s not a reflection on you, it’s about the city.’” 

Fuller said management at Ashby Lumber asked if the contractor would consider switching to working with their branch in Pleasant Hill. 

“He told us ‘no,’ because the business was still based in Berkeley,” said Fuller. 

According to Dean, these are just a few examples from the hundreds of e-mail messages her office has received. A man left a voice mail on her office telephone saying he canceled escrow on a home he was buying in town. A Midwestern CEO wrote he would be convening a meeting with other business leaders to discuss a city boycott. Individuals from around the Bay Area and the country said they would not buy anything in Berkeley.  

On Thursday, Councilmember Dona Spring, the author of the resolution, came out swinging against Dean and Rachel Rupert, CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, who she said should “bear the responsibility for the negative spin on this story.” 

Spring said in a television interview, Rupert said she was certain a boycott would follow passage of the resolution, and listed the forms such a boycott might take. 

“The president of the Chamber is the one publicizing the idea of boycotting Berkeley,” she said. “Rachel Rupert is trying to use the resolution to help Mayor Dean politically and hurt her rivals on the council.” 

“The important question businesses in the Chamber need to ask themselves is whether their president, Rachel Rupert, is working for them, or for the mayor.” 

A person answering the phones at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce said Rupert was in meetings all day and could not be reached for comment. 

Spring accused Dean of repeating in a press release, a statement Spring gave to a reporter that Spring said was a misquotation. Spring also stated that the mayor had characterized the resolution as a “condemnation” of the bombing, which Spring said was a mischaracterization. 

“The mayor knows better than that,” said Spring. “In her using this issue, and publicizing it, she hurt Berkeley in order to advance her own political career.”  

“This is an organized campaign to help the mayor’s re-election campaign, and unfortunately it’s coming at the expense of Berkeley businesses.” 

Mayor Dean said the charges were “absolutely the silliest statements I have ever heard.” 

“(Spring) should quit blaming people for her own blunders,” she said. “She needs to go into her office and read her e-mails. She needs to recognize the seriousness of her actions.” 

“I’m getting death threats for what (the progressives) do. She has put me, my family, my office staff and their families at risk, and she has the effrontery to say that it’s my fault. I reject that.” 

“I have never described this resolution as a condemnation,” Dean added. “I have never used those words. Ms. Spring knows that, and I don’t know what she’s talking about.”  

Dean bristled at charges that she maliciously repeated the quotation from the “Daily Californian,” which Spring said was incorrect. 

“My press release, in which I did repeat her statement in the Daily Cal, was days ago,” she said. “The Daily Cal stood by their story, but I took that press release off my web site, and it hasn’t been on there for days.” 

Dean also strongly denied that she was using the fallout from the resolution for political gain. 

“I went on the national news and tried to smooth this thing over,” she said. “I went onto the Fox News Channel and called the people behind this (resolution) ‘patriots.’ I tried to defend them.” 

Councilmember Spring said she had not yet heard from any local companies that report business losses because of the resolution, but regretted any that did occur. 

“It was never our intent to harm Berkeley businesses,” she said. “We are sorry about the inflammatory way that this was spun by the media, but the mayor and Rachel Rupert should bear the responsibility for that.” 

Spring said she also received many e-mails from people thanking her and promising to shop in Berkeley.