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Liberal cities will not follow Berkeley’s lead

John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday October 25, 2001


Other California cities with liberal traditions have so far shied away from joining Berkeley in taking an official stance on the U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan.  

If cities have soul mates, Berkeley might be spiritually joined with Santa Cruz and Arcata. All three are home to universities and long traditions of political, environmental and human rights activism. Each City Council is known for approving resolutions on global issues. 

While both Berkeley’s civic sisters have considered taking official action calling for a speedy end to U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, both have so far been reluctant to put such a resolution on their agendas.  

Berkeley narrowly approved a resolution calling for a quick end to U.S. bombing in Afghanistan on Oct. 16 by a 5-4 vote. The action thrust Berkeley into the national spotlight, and city officials have received thousands of phone calls and e-mail condemning the city’s action.  

In addition, there have been widespread threats of an economic boycott of Berkeley businesses, although it has been difficult to ascertain if local merchants have experienced a significant loss of revenue. 

The councilmembers who voted for the resolution have said the hostile response can be attributed to local and national media, which has distorted the meaning of the resolution into a condemnation of the U.S. bombing, though the resolution only called for an end to the military actions “as soon as possible.” 

Santa Cruz Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice said he is not concerned with hostile responses and boycott threats from around the country. Rather, he is worried about properly reflecting the community’s sentiment. 

“I am not worried about being out of step with the rest of the county,” Fitzmaurice said . “But I am concerned about accurately representing the sentiments of the community.” 

Santa Cruz’ seven-member City Council held a Town Meeting on Oct. 17 at which city residents were invited to express their views on the bombing of Afghanistan. According to Fitzmaurice, about 200 people attended and about 60 addressed the council.  

“Nearly all who spoke were against the bombing and about 12 people called for some kind of council action against it,” he said.  

According to the minutes of the meeting at least two people asked the Council to take an action similar to Berkeley’s. 

But instead of writing a resolution, the Santa Cruz City Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday night, chose to send a video tape of the Oct. 17 meeting and all related correspondence received by the city to U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. The council took no vote on the issue. 

Further north, Arcata’s five-member City Council heard from representatives of the Redwood Peace Coalition last week which requested a council resolution calling for the end to the bombing of Afghanistan.  

But councilmembers there still remember too clearly what happened 10 years ago when the council approved a resolution making Arcata a sanctuary for draft evaders during the Gulf War. The council unanimously rescinded the resolution one week later because local businesses, spurred by boycott threats, protested vociferously and all the councilmembers received multiple death threats. 

Arcata Councilmember Bob Ornelas, who was the first Green Party member elected in California, sat on the council in 1991. 

“I have a lasting memory of several death threats and I’m not anxious to relive them,” Ornelas said. “You couldn’t go for a bike ride in the farm lands without the fear of being run over by some war-crazed redneck.” 

During the meeting, Ornelas offered a challenge to RPC member Dave Meservice.  

“I told him that if he can bring 300 supporters for a anti-bombing resolution to the next council meeting something might happen.” Ornelas said.  

Meservice said he is not planning to organize the 300 people for the council’s next meeting on Nov. 7. 

“We don’t know if it’s worth it to play into the hands of the conservative minority,” he said. “We don’t want to give them the opportunity to do all those nasty things.” 

Locally, Councilmember Dona Spring, who initially wrote Berkeley’s controversial resolution, said she would like to see other cities follow Berkeley’s lead.  

“The more organizations, groups and cities that embrace the path of nonviolence in resolving this conflict, the easier it will be for more people to speak out and momentum to build,” she said. “But, given the harsh reaction Berkeley has received from the rest of the country, I would understand if they didn’t.”