First Person: UC, Berkeley Honda: Free Beer, But No Free Speech By ZELDA BRONSTEIN Special to the Planet

Tuesday October 04, 2005

There’s a strike at Berkeley Honda. The owners of the business have raised big bucks for Cal. Is UC siding with the dealership to the extent of bending or breaking campus rules about free speech and free alcohol? Based on what I observed on campus last Saturday afternoon, the answer appears to be yes.  

Along with other members of the Berkeley Honda Labor and Community Coalition, I’d gone up to Kleeberger Field, just north of Memorial Stadium, where the Cal football team would shortly kick off its game with the University of Arizona. The Berkeley Honda website said that the business would be hosting “a free tailgate party in the North end zone.” It seemed like a good opportunity to educate the public about the strike.  

We wanted to let people know that when the Doten family sold the Honda dealership on Shattuck to Danville businessmen last June, the new owners immediately required all employees, most of whom were union members, to reapply for their jobs. In the service and repair department, the new owners declined to rehire many experienced and unionized older workers, who averaged 20 years of tenure. They replaced these veteran employees with recent technical school students and graduates. As our flier put it: “Lower Wages But Not Lower Prices.” 

The new owners have also degraded pension benefits and unilaterally changed the health insurance plan. Instead of bargaining in good faith with the unions, East Bay Automotive Machinists Lodge Local 1546 and Teamsters Local 78, management is continually delaying negotiations. Former Berkeley Honda employees are picketing on Shattuck Avenue outside the dealership, often accompanied by community supporters and a 12-foot-high inflatable rat.  

Mindful of the parking jam on game days, we decided to shuttle people up the hill. After dropping off a carload, I (miraculously) found a parking space on Regent Street just south of Dwight Way and then walked back to Kleeberger Field.  

When I arrived at the Berkeley Honda booth, the dealership manager, Tim Lubeck, was offering free hot dogs, chips, beer and wine to everyone who walked by. A few feet away, four of my colleagues were in dialogue with four campus police officers. I later learned from another member of the Labor and Community Coalition, Mary Courtney, that Lubeck, told her that he had called the police. Dolores Helman, also in the coalition, told me why.  

Beinke, she said, had come out in front of the booth and accused her of lying about the strike. “Get out of my face,” he said and grabbed the fliers she was holding. “You give me back those fliers, and I’ll get out of your face,” she replied. “Those are mine. We paid for them.”  

According to Helman, Beinke refused to return the fliers. So Helman and Coalition member Judy Shelton went down to Gayley Road and told a campus policeman there what had happened. “He did that?!” said the officer, seemingly surprised. Thinking that the officer had called other police to help them, Helman and Shelton returned to the tailgate party. When they got there, more campus police had indeed arrived—but to aid Berkeley Honda, not them.  

At first, the police said that coalition members had to leave because the dealership had a permit, and they didn’t. About then, I came onto the scene. Campus Police Lieutenant Ferrandini was ruling that we could stay after all, under certain conditions. “You can’t cause a disruption,” she said. “You have to step off to the side. Don’t bother [Berkeley Honda].” And, “you can’t distribute the fliers.”  

“We can’t distribute our fliers?” I said. “Isn’t that what the Free Speech Movement was all about?” John Lame, a passerby who said he was a UC employee and a member of AFSCME, joined the protest. But the lieutenant was adamant. I asked: “Is this part of the university’s time, place and manner [of assembly] rules?” She said it was and told me to check out UC’s website.  

I went home and Googled up three items. They all left me wondering where the university draws the line between itself and private business, especially when it comes to free speech.  

The UC Berkeley Police Department’s page on “Free Speech and Public Assembly” states:  

“UC Berkeley has a tradition of being an open forum for the expression of political and social ideas. While the university and its Police Department recognize the rights of individuals to engage in constitutionally protected free speech and public assembly, this activity must be conducted in a reasonable and responsible manner. 

“People who choose to exercise their freedom of speech or right to public assembly should understand that such rights are not unlimited. When the activity infringes on the rights of others or interferes with university business, it loses constitutional protection and may become a violation of law or university rules and regulations.”  

I wondered: Could leafletting the Berkeley Honda tailgate party be considered “interfering with university business”?  

The “Policy on Speech and Advocacy” states:  

“The time, place and manner of exercising constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly, and worship are subject to campus regulations that shall provide for non-interference with university functions and reasonable protection to persons against practices that would make them involuntary audiences or place them in reasonable fear, as determined by the university, for their personal safety.”  

As far as I knew, nobody from the Labor and Community Coalition had made anyone an “involuntary audience” or placed anyone “in reasonable fear.” But again, I wondered whether distributing our leaflets near the Berkeley Honda booth could be deemed interference with a “university function.”  

Regulation 363 under “Berkeley Campus Regulations Implementing University Policies” says:  

“Anyone may personally distribute non-commercial announcements, statements, or materials in any outdoor area of the campus consistent with the orderly conduct of university affairs, the maintenance of university property, and the free flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Efforts must be made to avoid litter. Particular circumstances at particular times may require some limitations.”  

The first sentence here seemed to support our right to give out our flyers. But once more, the UC regulation raised questions. Did the Berkeley Honda tailgate party count as one of the “particular circumstances” that “at particular times” required “some limitations” on free speech? Would the university rule that our “materials” were commercial and therefore undeserving of protection? What about Berkeley Honda, then? Wasn’t their presence blatantly commercial? Did their right to expression deserve more protection than ours?  

And the episode raised a host of other, equally troubling issues. “Berkeley Campus Policies Governing the Promotion of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Products on the Campus and at Campus-Sponsored Events” include a prohibition on “offering free drinks.” Tim Lubeck had been loudly hawking free beer (and what’s more, apparently not bothering to card any of the young people who took up his offer). Why didn’t the campus police stop him?  

Taped prominently onto the table of the Berkeley Honda booth was an ad that ran in the Sept. 30-Oct. 3 issue of the Daily Planet. There, Beinke and his Berkeley Honda partner, Steve Haworth, claimed to have raised over $600,000 for Cal athletic programs and the Haas School of Business in the past seven years. Did that buy them the right to dispense free booze on campus?  

UC’s website says that any exception to its alcohol promotion regulations “requires the express approval of the dean of student life (or, in his or her absence, the provost for undergraduate affairs), who will determine whether the promised promotional activity’s benefit to the campus community significantly outweighs the detriment it poses.” Did the dean or provost decide that Berkeley Honda’s benefits to the campus community outweighed the detriment posed by its free dispensation of beer and wine? It seems unlikely, but the question remains.  

The Cal website also says that violation of the school’s alcohol promotion policy “is grounds for canceling or suspending the activity or event and imposing sanctions against the sponsoring unit, group or organization, at the discretion of the dean of student life.” 

Berkeley Honda has sent out a letter to its customers advertising its October tailgate parties at Cal. The Cal football team has two more home games this month. Is the university administration going to allow Berkeley Honda to continue offering free liquor on campus before games? Is it going to cancel the company’s tailgate parties or impose other sanctions?  

The Official Athletic Site of the University of California Golden Bears, run by Cal Sports Properties, a division of ISP Sports, Inc., currently welcomes Berkeley Honda as one of “our newest Golden Bear partners.” Does the Cal Athletic Department really want to partner with a business like Berkeley Honda? If so, what does that willingness say about the department’s values and its lessons for the students at what is, as its website reminds prospective Golden Bear partners, “the premier public university in the nation”?  


Zelda Bronstein, B.A. 1970, is a lifetime member of the California Alumni Association.