Council Considers Questions of Peace and Justice

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 18, 2008

The question of how to approach matters of peace and justice took center stage at the March 11 Berkeley City Council meeting. At the meeting the council also looked at a new report on pedestrian safety, asked staff to write a graywater permit process and more. 


Addressing peace and justice 

The discussion of how best to address questions of peace and justice was prompted by a Jan. 29 action the council approved, then rescinded two weeks later, which asked the city manager to write a letter to the U.S. Marines saying its recruiters were unwelcome in Berkeley. In the revised version, the council underscored support for the troops and reaffirmed its long-standing support for protests against the war.  

The original resolution calling the recruiters unwelcome caused an eruption of the right-wing blogosphere, and councilmembers received thousands of e-mails—against and for the resolution.  

After the matter exploded in the press, several councilmembers said they had failed to read the item carefully. 

That’s why the three peace and justice items before the council last week were on the action calendar for discussion, rather than on the consent calendar where they might have been quickly approved. 

One resolution called for sanctuary for military resisters in Canada; another opposed the use by the U.S. government of mercenaries, and the third supported human rights in Haiti. 

The council’s vote on writing to Canadian officials to ask for sanctuary for U.S. military resisters, on a resolution authored by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, was moved from the action to the consent calendar and approved 8-0. Mayor Tom Bates was absent. 

A measure authored by the Peace and Justice Commission stated the council’s opposition to U.S. government use of the Blackwater corporation in particular and mercenaries in general, and supported the city of Potrero (San Diego County), which is on record opposing Blackwater’s establishing training facilities there. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he shared the commission’s concerns about the large number of mercenaries fighting in Iraq, but he told Peace and Justice Commission Chair Bob Meola that he would have wanted more information on the question. 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli did not argue against the item but told fellow councilmembers that given the volume of information contained in each council packet, “I need to take my energy and focus it on local policy more germane” to Berkeley. 

“We all have a responsibility to know what we’re voting for,” Councilmember Max Anderson shot back, noting that the question of use of mercenaries “has more impact in our lives than a pothole in the street.”  

“The atrocities of Blackwater have been documented,” commented Councilmember Darryl Moore, who chaired the meeting in Bates’ absence. 

Wozniak had the council narrow the scope of the measure to include opposition to use of mercenaries specifically in Iraq, rather than more generally; the measure continued to support the Potrero council’s opposition to Blackwater.  

The item passed 6-0-2, with Capitelli and Councilmember Betty Olds abstaining. 

On the question of Haiti, the resolution, also proposed by the Peace and Justice Commission, called for release of political prisoners, the guarantee of freedom of speech and assembly, compensation for victims of United Nations’ military raids and sexual exploitation, withdrawal of foreign occupying forces, including U.N. troops, debt cancellation and more. 

Councilmembers wanted to learn more before voting on the issue. Maio said references to the United Nations as an occupying force troubled her. The United Nations “is an organization we honor,” she said. 

Wozniak echoed Maio’s concerns, though he said he supports the call for cancellation of Haiti’s debt. 

“We have photographs of elementary school children in Cite Soleil (a slum in Port-au-Prince) with their bodies riddled with bullets” from the U.N. military, said Adrianne Aron of the Haiti Action Committee, which had brought the resolution to the Peace and Justice Commission. 

Sister Stella Goodpasture, also of the Haiti Action Committee, added that in visits to Haiti, she had seen U.N. “soldiers there, with their guns pointed at you.” 

Anderson told the council he is no stranger to Haiti’s history as having the “first successful slave revolt in this hemisphere,” but that he would support the council’s getting more information on the question before taking a vote on the resolution. 

The council voted 8-0 for four of its members to meet with members of the Haiti Action Committee for further information today (Tuesday), in advance of the resolution’s coming back on the agenda, and then, at a future date, the council would hold a workshop on the question of Haiti. 


Pedestrian plan 

The council addressed the pedestrian plan briefly. It will be discussed in detail at a Thursday workshop during the regular meeting of the Transportation Commission: 7 p.m., North Berkeley Senior Center 1901 Hearst Ave. 

Capitelli commented on what he said was an overabundance of signs on Solano Avenue—especially the yellow sign “with the guy pointing to the crosswalk”—intended to make people drive more carefully. Capitelli said he thought that if there were too many signs, people would ignore them. 

The plan is available on line at www.altaplanning.com/berkeleypedestrianplan. 

At the meeting the council also voted unanimously to: 

• Continue the public hearing on the question of building a house at 161 Panoramic Way until March 25. 

• Amend the contract with Lincoln & Associates to $53,500 to recruit a transportation manager. 

• Ask staff to develop a graywater permit process.