‘An artificial crisis’: City Council to vote on sanctuary waiver for Motorola

photo of the City Council building
David McAllister /Senior Staff
Berkeley City Council approved a contract with with Motorola Solutions, which may violate the city's Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance. The ordinances prohibits the city from doing business with entities that work with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, with exemptions.

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On Sept. 28, the Berkeley City Council approved a $6.5 million contract with Motorola Solutions despite concerns that the deal violated the Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance.

Established in 2019, the ordinance prohibits the city from entering into agreements with entities that provide certain data and vetting services to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, with exemptions. At its special meeting Tuesday, the council will vote to approve a waiver that affirms that this contract with Motorola Solutions falls under those exemptions.

“This contract provides an updated radio system to all of our emergency services (Fire/Police etc.), which is essential in an event of a disaster impacting multiple agencies, such as an earthquake or wildfire,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email statement.

According to City Councilmember Kate Harrison, who voted against the contract, the radio equipment used by the city is “obsolete” and cannot perform encryption functions that are now required by the state. She added that the deal will fall through if the waiver does not pass.

Some community members have voiced opposition to the deal, citing a lack of transparency and Motorola Solutions’ relationship with ICE. Vigilant Solutions, a subsidiary of Motorola Solutions, has provided license plate reader data to ICE in the past; it is unclear whether ICE still has access to Vigilant data.

“I oppose the way that this item is being rammed through,” said Berkeley resident Elana Auerbach. “That created an artificial crisis.”

Auerbach alleged that the city intentionally delayed public consideration of the deal to limit public scrutiny. Motorola Solutions provided a discounted quote to the city Dec. 19, 2020. According to the Sept. 28 meeting agenda, if the city approved the deal by Sept. 30, it could save about $1 million in expenses.

According to the special meeting agenda, passage of the waiver on Tuesday will still allow the city to save the $1 million.

The Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance prohibits the city from doing business with extreme vetting providers and data brokers who work with ICE unless it determines that “no reasonable alternative exists.”

Auerbach contends that the city did not do its “due diligence” in ensuring that Motorola Solutions was the only reasonable choice to provide the radios.

The East Bay Regional Communications System Authority, or EBRCSA, is responsible for maintaining radio communications for public agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. According to Arreguín, interagency communication is essential to avoid a repeat of the logistical challenges that contributed to the destruction of the 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm.

“EBRCSA has recommended that agencies utilize Motorola radios so that we can ensure the technicians are prepared to work on these radios and have enough replacement parts on hand,” wrote EBRCSA executive director Tom McCarthy in a letter to the Berkeley Police Department on Sept. 30.

In the letter, McCarthy said the Motorola equipment used by EBRCSA is largely compatible with standardized equipment from other manufacturers. However, certain proprietary functions require Motorola radios.

Although Harrison recognized the operational need for radios, she stressed the importance of the sanctuary policy.

“The sanctuary ordinance is not a pro forma piece of paper — it means something,” Harrison said. “It means that we don’t work with people who are involved with children being put in cages and Haitians being chased by officers on horseback. It has a real meaning.”

Contact Kelly Suth and Gabe Classon at [email protected].