Members of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, who say the threat of nuclear war is still real, are up in arms in response to Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s efforts to repeal parts of the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act.
However, the act is a relic of a bygone era. Passed by a voter referendum in 1986 under the cloud of the Cold War, the act bars the city from dealing with organizations with ties to nuclear energy or weapons, including the federal government. While we understand the significance of such symbolic measures and how important it is for the city to stand up for its values, officials have pursued the message of the act beyond reasonable lengths.
What once stood as a symbolic gesture, in line with what may have been a popular trend at the time, has since proven to be a road block. The city, for example, cannot invest in U.S. Treasury bonds, notes and bills. The act also complicates the city’s procurement of simple necessities — police radios, library scanners, computer software — and places restrictions on interactions with UC Berkeley.
Between 2008 and 2009, for example, the measure stood in the way of Berkeley Public Library’s efforts to receive maintenance services for its self-checkout system because the company that had to perform the maintenance did not meet the act’s nuclear-free standards. The library ultimately received a waiver, but the process of approval took nearly four months.
We acknowledge that the city may often grant waivers for certain projects — according to chair of the Peace and Justice Commission George Lippman, no project with UC Berkeley has been turned down in his more than three years with the commission. But if officials are able to circumvent the act by allowing for these waivers, it seems that the city’s nuclear-free stance is actually quite penetrable.
Thus, we recognize the merit behind Wozniak’s efforts. The citizens of Berkeley must now, 25 years later, decide the act’s fate because it was the voters who passed the measure originally. If the majority once again embraces the act, then so be it. We hope, though, that voters would see that the limitations imposed by blanket nuclear-free provisions outweigh any potential good.