Berkeley Draws Ire for Anti-War Stand

The city council in Berkeley, Calif., last week passed a resolution asking that the U.S. conclude its bombing campaign against Afghanistan as quickly as possible and work with governments throughout the world to end the "oppression and subjugation that tend to drive some people to acts of terrorism."

In response, this week, out-of-town businesses are doing their own oppressing -- threatening the city of Berkeley with an economic boycott.

"The Council's action has produced literally thousands of e-mail messages, letters and phone calls coming into my office," Mayor Shirley Dean wrote in an open letter to the city, published on the city Web site. "I am extremely worried because most of these messages state they intend to boycott Berkeley financially."

Dean warned that contracts could be abandoned, dinner reservations cancelled and real estate transactions terminated as part of the boycott.

"This is a serious consequence for our city coming at a time of economic downturn," Dean's letter read.

At least one known business has cancelled a contract with a Berkeley company because of the city's controversial resolution, which asked the U.S. to "break the cycle of violence" and end the bombing of Afghan targets "as soon as possible" while minimizing the danger to innocent Afghans and American military personnel.

San Francisco company Lowerberg Corp. decided it wasn't going to purchase property in the city after all.

"It is not our intention or desire to increase the tax base of a city that shows no loyalty and solidarity to our government," owner William Lowenberg wrote Dean in a letter quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle.

At the company's offices, Susan Lowenberg confirmed the letter had been sent, but said the company had no comment on the matter.

The threat of a financial boycott is clear, but it's too early to tell whether the liberal city will actually lose significant business. The city's office of economic development did not return calls for comment.

Councilwoman Miriam Hawley, who did not vote for the council resolution, said she hoped that the boycotts would be limited.

"I personally know the mayor has received e-mails from people from, for example, Dayton, Ohio, who say, 'I'm not going to stop in your city for lunch,'" she said. "Hopefully the boycott will be contained and brief."

She said the e-mails she'd seen looked formulaic, as if a few people had written them and were encouraging others to send them in.

"These are zealots and patriots who think that the situation is totally black and white, you're with us or against, there's no middle ground," she said. "I think they hope to hurt our city because they don't like our stand, but I also think most people have no idea what the resolution that was passed actually said."

The resolution, which condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as "mass murder" and suggested that America consume less oil and develop solar power, was passed by a narrow 5-4 vote.

Another councilwoman, Polly Armstrong, who, like Hawley, abstained from voting, put the blame squarely with the council members who did vote for the resolution.

"I thought it was a bad idea, unnecessary and irritating," she said in a telephone interview. "Still in all, it's not Berkeley. It was a slight majority of the council. Am I embarrassed by what the council did? Yes. Should the people who live and work in Berkeley suffer because of what some misguided, egotistical city council members did? I don't think so. I think those council members forgot that there are consequences for real people from what they do."

Other city council members did not return telephone calls for comment. Mayor Shirley Dean, who is in Washington, D.C., could not immediately be reached.