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City Council Asks for Troops to Come Home

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 29, 2009 - 09:20:00 AM

Berkeley once again dipped into U.S. foreign policy Tuesday when its City Council passed a resolution asking the Obama administration to withdraw troops and private armed contractors from Afghanistan.  

All councilmembers supported the resolution, except for Gordon Wozniak, who abstained. 

Before the vote, the council amended the resolution to remove the portion calling for the U.S. to cease drone attacks on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

The issue proved to be the liveliest of the evening, with members of the public protesting when councilmembers Susan Wengraf and Linda Maio suggested postponing the item to correct ambiguous wording in the resolution. 

Code Pink, CopWatch and Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, which recommended the resolution to the council, voiced their support for immediate troop withdrawal. 

Melody Ermachild Chavis, author of Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan: The Martyr Who Founded RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, said that Afghanistan’s perception of the United States had taken a turn for the worse since the U.S. occupied Afghanistan in 2001. 

“Afghanistan was welcoming us before—if only everything had been different,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to say that that U.S. contribution in Afghanistan has been negative. We have bombed weddings, the children playing along the banks every day for eight years. If there are three things I could tell President Obama, it would be stop killing Afghanis, stop killing Afghanis, stop killing Afghanis.” 

Code Pink’s Zanne Joi said it was important for Berkeley to step up because it was the “anti-war voice for the nation.” 

“We are the peace voice for the nation,” she said. “There’s nothing we are doing in Afghanistan that’s moral.” 

Peace and Justice commissioner Bob Meola, who wrote the agenda item, said that if the council didn’t pass it Tuesday, it might be too late. 

“We can quibble over the wordsmithing, but I believe the train will leave the station,” agreed Councilmember Max Anderson. “We will miss an opportunity to weigh in on this if we leave foreign policy to others. We have troops in 140 countries around the world and presidents taking part in war crimes. Yes, we ought to get out of there rapidly, even if you think we are fighting the Taliban, even if you think we are fighting al Qaeda or propping up Pakistan. This is not the way to do it.” 

The council’s resolution also supports a bill by U.S. Rep Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), which seeks to cease funding of the war in Afghanistan and calls for an exit strategy and withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. 

“Congresswoman Lee has a very good strategy—no more troops, no more money,” Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said. “Rather than us telling the president how he should do his job, we should just tell him not to expand the war.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that Berkeley’s resolution was not meant to be a slap at Lee or Obama. 

“Having a resolution like this will make it easier for her (Lee) to negotiate,” he said.  


Telegraph laundromat protest 

Bateman neighbors showed up to protest a commercial laundromat being constructed on the ground floor of a condominium building at 3095 Telegraph Ave., demanding that the city’s Planning Department revoke the building permit unless the applicant obtains an administrative use permit. 

The neighbors argued that the Planning Department had erroneously issued the laundromat’s owners a building permit because they had requested a renovation of what the applicant described an existing laundromat, instead of requesting a change of use permit for a new laundromat use. 

Holding signs which said “Revoke Permit” and “Erroneous Application,” the neighbors demanded a public hearing, so that neighbors had an opportunity to voice concerns about safety, traffic and other quality-of-life issues. 

“What is the message you are sending by approving this erroneous use permit?” a neighbor asked angrily. “... Berkeley seems to prioritize the interests of people from outside the city rather than its own citizens.” 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the city would be taking up the issue in closed session Nov. 9 because southside neighbors had threatened a lawsuit. 

At Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s request, Kamlarz said he would place the issue on the council agenda in the near future. 


2421 Ninth Street Appeal 

The City Council unanimously decided to hold a public hearing for an appeal on 2421 Ninth St., a project which proposes constructing a two-story, 1,396 square-foot, detached unit in the rear end of a 6,500 square-foot lot with an existing single-family dwelling. 

Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board approved the project on May 14, 2009. 

At least 22 neighbors have protested that the project is too big for their quaint little neighborhood, arguing that they would rather see a single-story small cottage instead. 

Project architect Gregory VanMechelen contended at the council meeting that the proposed structure would have no significant impact on neighboring residents’ privacy, light or views. 

VanMechelen said the applicants had continuously reduced the scale of the project, which had originally been around 1,688 square feet. 

“There is a desperate need for family housing in the Berkeley flatlands,” he said. “Stop making this a moving target.”