Berkeley City Council approves controversial $6.5M Motorola contract

photo of Berkeley during wildfire season
Lisi Ludwig/File
A contract between Berkeley City Council and Motorola Solutions aims to create an emergency radio service for first responders in Northern California.

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Berkeley City Council voted to enter into a $6.5 million seven-year contract with Motorola Solutions to create an emergency radio service for the Berkeley Fire and Police Departments, despite public opposition to the city working with a company known to aid U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the council approved the contract in a split vote with City Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Ben Bartlett voting “no” and City Councilmember Sophie Hahn voting to abstain on the issue. Within the next seven years, the city will work with Motorola to develop and implement a new outdoor warning system for emergencies and natural disasters such as wildfires.

Though the council did not grant this item much time for discussion as it was on the consent calendar, rather than action calendar, many Berkeley residents spoke against the contract during public comment. Several argued that the agreement would violate the city’s Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance, which the council passed in 2019. The ordinance was designed to prevent the city from entering into contracts with businesses that provide extreme vetting services or act as data brokers for ICE.

“(The ordinance) is not just about data broker services,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “Our sanctuary policy is that no city employee will collaborate with ICE.”

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said she would return to the council with a waiver for the contract in the case that it does contradict the city’s sanctuary ordinance. However, many in public comment argued that if the city cannot obtain a waiver to go against the ordinance without undermining it in the process.

Several Berkeley residents asked that the item be moved to the action calendar to make room for further discussion, but council members cited the need for a radio service to connect first responders to others in northern California and the fact that the city was receiving a $1 million discount for the project as reasoning for approving the contract Tuesday evening. However, not all council members approved of the decision.

“I know we need it for fire but I can’t unsee those kids in cages last year,” Bartlett said during the meeting. “I cannot vote to support those that enable that anti-human activity.”

The council also voted unanimously in favor of two urgent items added to the consent calendar at the beginning of the meeting. The first involved replenishing the COVID-19 Business Damage Mitigation Fund with $50,000 from Berkeley Relief Fund donations. The city created the mitigation fund in June 2020 but its funds have since depleted. The second item proposed that the council continue to meet virtually due to the pandemic.

Additionally, the council voted to approve a permit for a private residence’s expansion at 2943 Pine Ave., upholding a previous decision from the Zoning Adjustment Board. It also approved simplified Berkeley Zoning Ordinance language that council members reviewed two weeks ago at their regular meeting.

Before adjourning, the council also approved a program that will allow private operators to make electric scooters and bikes available in the city, an issue long-debated in Berkeley.

Rachel Barber is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.