City Council votes to further expand phone book opt-out program

The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a recommendation at its meeting Tuesday night that would make an existing program that allows residents to opt-out of phone books more far reaching and effective by asking AT&T to honor opt-out requests.

The bill was passed in two parts; the first segment of the bill, which asked the city manager to write to AT&T requesting their compliance with the opt-out program, was passed at the council’s meeting last Tuesday, where it was originally on the consent calendar to be voted on. The second and final segment — which asked the city manager to recommend that Alameda County StopWaste.org design a program similar to the city of Seattle’s — was passed last night.

The second segment was held over from last week’s meeting on a recommendation from Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“I think that if we’re going to send something over to stop waste it should be well-written and comprehensive,” Worthington said at the meeting last week. “This proposal as written is the lowest common denominator, the lowest possible thing to be considered. If we hold over on (the second segment) we could flesh it out with more of the options.”

The segment was duly revised before its reintroduction at this week’s meeting.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he arranged a meeting with Chuck Teller, the president and executive director of Catalog Choice — the website that residents can access to opt-out of phone books.

“(Teller) and Councilmember Worthington met yesterday and Chuck had several very specific suggestions that we could move forward with,” Wozniak said at the Tuesday council meeting. “I don’t have any particular objections to Councilmember Worthington’s additions to the items. I do want to point out that some of the items Councilmember Worthington included do include significant cost — we need to be aware of that as we move along.”

Before the vote regarding the second segment took place, a representative of Valley Yellow Pages offered a word of warning regarding litigation surrounding Seattle’s opt-out program.

“The yellow pages industry is in litigation with the city of Seattle over the constitutionality of that ordinance,” said Jason Hamm, general counsel for Valley Yellow Pages. “It would put the industry in a difficult position if another copycat ordinance was passed in the meantime while that was pending appeal.”

Hamm made a clarification about the composition of the company’s phone books.

“We don’t cut down our trees to make our phone books,” he said. “Our phone books are made out of scraps from other industries, and so we need to work on the accuracy of the message — saving trees is actually not accomplished by opting out of phone books.”