At the Jan. 27 meeting where the City Council rammed through a waiver for the Library of the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act (NFBA), the council majority’s disdain for the public was palpable. Some 30 persons present to speak against waiving the NFBA were not called to speak until 11 p.m. By then the 20 remaining were forced by the mayor to confine their comments to one minute each unless someone else deferred time. This was not in the spirit of the Brown Act which requires equitable treatment of public speakers. Speakers on other agenda items had two minutes.
Most unusual was the speed with which the Peace and Justice Commission’s (P&J) Jan. 5 recommendation that the City Council deny the waiver of the NFBA reached the Council agenda. A P&J recommendation generally doesn’t reach the council for a couple of months. This, undoubtedly, resulted in councilmembers not having time to read and analyze the communications and reports, many of which, unavoidably, due to time constraints arrived the day of the meeting and were issued at the meeting as a Supplemental Communication 1 to councilmembers. This supplement included a letter from the California Council of Churches representing 5,000 congregations and 1.5 million members, which asked the City Council to deny the Berkeley Public Library’s request of the waiver of the NFBA.
Also, in the Supplemental Communication 1 were e-mails from the Library Users Association’s executive director and from two former librarians at the Berkeley Public Library. The Library Users Association research revealed that 3M, the company the library wants to contract with to maintain its RFID self-checkout system, in 2007 had over $34 million in federal contracts, most for the military, including “Missile Procurement,” “Weapons Procurement,” “Procurement of Ammunition,” “Procurement of…Tracked Combat Vehicles” (USA Spending.gov website). The librarians’ research pointed out that there is an alternative to assuming a high cost contract for maintenance of a proprietary RFID system. They carefully spelled out why a barcode self-checkout system would be more cost effective and, being non-proprietary, open to competitive bidding.
The City Council’s approval of a waiver violates the NFBA. The Act states “The City of Berkeley shall grant no contract to any person or business which knowingly engages in work for nuclear weapons, unless the City Council makes a specific determination that no reasonable alternative exists…” considering three factors: the intent and purpose of the act, the availability of alternative services, and, quantifiable additional costs resulting from use of available alternatives.
Despite the fact that the library currently has a maintenance contract until June 2009 and, despite Councilmember Worthington’s call for a postponement of the item in order that such a specific determination could be made, six councilmembers voted to waive the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act, in defiance of the NFBA, (a citizens’ initiative, passed by more than two thirds of voters) so the Berkeley Public Library can contract with 3M, a military contractor involved in the nuclear weapons industry.
Thanks to Councilmembers Worthington, Arreguin and Anderson for wisely suggesting more study of the issue was needed before a vote. Sadly they were ignored.
Gene Bernardi is a member of Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense (SuperBOLD).