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Berkeley boycott hard to measure

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday October 24, 2001

Despite thousands of boycott threats resulting from a City Council resolution calling for a quick end to the bombing in Afghanistan, it has so far been difficult to estimate the actual impact on Berkeley’s businesses and economy. 

“A lot of the calls and e-mail are part of a process of venting,” said Rachel Rupert, chief executive officer of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. “Berkeley has become a national vehicle for expression.” 

City officials, the Chamber of Commerce and the Berkeley Convention & Visitors Bureau have been receiving telephone calls, letters and e-mail from around the country calling for a boycott of Berkeley businesses. But the actual cost to local business has been hard to assess largely because business owners and managers are reluctant to give specific information about revenue losses. 

“It’s a problem because local businesses are playing this very close to the vest,” Rupert said. “They don’t want to give out information that might hurt them.” 

Threats of a boycott began to come in shortly after the City Council approved a resolution related to the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. The resolution called for a letter to be sent to U.S. representatives asking them to “help break the cycle of violence” by “ bringing the bombing to a conclusion as soon as possible.”  

The resolution also condemned the terrorist acts and expressed grief for the thousands of innocent people who died in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11.  

According to Rupert, it might be months until the real impact of a possible boycott is known. She said businesses will begin to report their earnings from the busy holiday season next March. Those numbers will have to be compared to other business areas similar to Berkeley, such as San Leandro, Alameda and certain sections of Oakland. 

While local business operators are clearly worried about a boycott (some have reported losses to the Mayor’s office and the Chamber of Commerce) the Daily Planet was unable to contact any outside businesses, organizations or individuals who would admit they have canceled contracts, reservations or ended a long-time patronage with a Berkeley business because of the council’s resolution. 

The Daily Planet did verify a cancellation of a 230-person banquet at the Berkeley Marina Radisson for the Reserve Officer Training Corps. But the person who took the reservation would not say why the ROTC canceled, only that he was ordered to do so “by a real army captain.” 

The owner of Ashby Lumber, Jeff Hogan, said he recently lost a $60,000 deal to sell building supplies to a long-time customer because of the council’s decision. But Hogan refused to divulge the name of that customer.  

“Our customer was very adamant that he was trying to make his opinion known to the City Council and he did not want his name given out,” Hogan said. 

An e-mail to the mayor’s office from Tsunami Visual Technologies in Fremont claiming to have canceled a $12,000 deal with a Berkeley media company turned out be a “misunderstanding,” according to Tsunami spokesperson Aaron Davies. 

City officials are not talking about this phenomenon either. 

Bill Lambert, the manager of the Department of Economic Development, met with Rupert and Barbara Hillman, president of the Berkeley Convention & Visitors Bureau, on Tuesday. He was unwilling to make any verification of economic impacts from a possible boycott.  

Councilmember Linda Maio said the national media bears some responsibility for the anger many Americans are expressing toward Berkeley. She said the resolution was mischaracterized by CNN and other news sources as a condemnation of the U.S. bombing. 

Maio said she has spent the last three days personally answering e-mail sent to her office and that many of those people misunderstood the council’s action. 

“Many are writing-in because they believe the City Council condemned the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan,” Maio said. “We never, ever did that, nor did we even come close to doing that.” 

Maio said the resolution simply asked for a quick end to the bombing.  

“Who doesn’t want that?” she said. 

City officials have no way of knowing if the threats of a boycott are serious, but one thing is for sure: The e-mail and phone calls are coming from angry people who appear to need some place to express frustration and rage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. 

“They don’t know where to put this frustration and Berkeley has given them a place,” Maio said.