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Pacifica radio to return to Berkeley

By Matthew Artz
Monday September 23, 2002

The Pacifica Foundation radio network will return to Berkeley by March, three years after it fled the city amid protests and lawsuits. 

The radio network’s interim Board of Directors voted 12-1 Sunday to move its headquarters from Washington D.C. back to Berkeley, where it was founded more than 50 years ago. 

The surprisingly lopsided vote came after an interim board decision last month to put off the network’s move. 

Sunday’s vote means the network’s executive director and top decision making staff will again be stationed in Berkeley. To win the support of Washington interim board members who were opposed to the Berkeley move, the body decided to establish a national news bureau in Washington. 

Board members said the return to Berkeley was poetic justice after the destructive policies of the previous board. 

The 1999 board tried to fire staff members and moderate the political view of its Berkeley station KPFA. Station supporters took to the streets in protest and filed lawsuits against the board. In response, the board in January 2000, moved its headquarters under the cover of darkness to Washington.  

In addition to KPFA, Pacifica also holds licenses of community stations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington. 

“It’s important to right the wrongs of the past,” said interim board member Leslie Cagan. “One of those wrongs was the theft of the office from Berkeley.” 

Pacifica’s interim board was formed as part of a legal settlement between the former board and protesters.  

The board’s decision was not as simple as the 12-1 vote may appear. After it voted in March to return to Berkeley by the end of the year, a faction of board members tried to stall the move. 

Dominated by board members from Washington, they passed a resolution last month by a 7-4 vote that effectively halted the foundation’s return to Berkeley because of a lack of funds.  

After two years of internal legal wrangling, Pacifica has been left $1.5 million in debt, and interim treasurer Jabri Zakiya said a move would cost several hundred thousand dollars.  

However, at Sunday’s board meeting in Houston, new Executive Director Dan Coughlin presented a budget for 2003 that estimated the move at $120,000.  

Because Pacifica owns its Berkeley headquarters and rents its current site in Washington, Coughlin estimated that the move would actually save the network $73,900 a year and would pay for itself within two years. 

Additionally, rank-and-file members of the five stations pressured board members to support the move. According to interim board member Debbie Spooner, every station manager told board members that Pacifica could not heal from its recent turmoil until it had returned to its rightful home in Berkeley. 

Even Washington station members voted by a slim margin in favor of returning the headquarters to Berkeley. 

In the final vote, only Jabari Zakiya, the Washington-based treasurer voted against the move.Zakiya could not be reached for comment.