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Paper Theft, Health Laws On Berkeley Council Slate

Tuesday October 14, 2003

In the third (and what the mayor undoubtedly hopes is the last) act in Mayor Tom Bates’ Great Newspaper Theft drama, City Council will discuss at its regular meeting tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 14) an ordinance to ban the stealing of newspapers in the City of Berkeley. 

The drama’s first act occurred on the day before last November’s mayoral election, when some 1,000 copies of the Daily Cal, which contained an endorsement of Bates’ opponent, former Mayor Shirley Dean, were stolen from the campus. 

Act two came when Bates pleaded guilty to stealing and trashing the papers and was fined $100 by the Alameda County Superior Court. At the time he confessed, Bates also promised to introduce a newspaper theft ordinance to City Council. 

The proposed ordinance would ban the theft of newspapers in Berkeley, whether the thefts were for the purpose of curbing free speech or for resale to a recycler. Violation of the ordinance would come under the City Charter’s general misdemeanor provision, which calls for a fine of not more than one thousand dollars and/or imprisonment not to exceed six months. 

Theft of newspapers to silence speech is a growing national problem, particularly affecting college student newspapers. Earlier this year the Student Press Law Center in Arlington reported 25 incidents of theft of college student newspapers during the past academic year. 

Also at tonight’s meeting, Council is set to discuss a resolution, introduced by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Margaret Breland and recommended by the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, that could change the way the city acquires and uses possibly harmful commodities and services. 

Called the “Precautionary Principle,” the resolution would “shift the responsibility for demonstrating the safety of a potentially harmful substance or activity to the proponent of the activity,” and would concentrate in the areas of minimizing health risks to staff and residents, minimizing the city’s contribution to global climate change, improving air quality, protecting the quality of ground and surface waters, and minimizing the city’s consumption of resources. 

If adopted, the resolution would require city staff to create a draft “Precautionary Principle” ordinance and purchase policy within one year. 

Other highlights of tonight’s City Council agenda include a proposed ordinance to ban smoking in Berkeley’s bus shelters and recommendations to improve wheelchair and pedestrian safety on Ashby Avenue.