Say no to waiving Berkeley’s Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance

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In an attempt to prepare the city of Berkeley for potential emergencies, our city leadership has disposed of its values and used fear-driven decision-making. Tonight, the City Council will vote on a waiver to Berkeley’s Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance in order to legitimize a $6.5M contract with Motorola — a company that sells surveillance products for use at the US-Mexico border.

Now is the moment for us to say no: No to violations of our city’s values, to bulldozing the community’s requests for transparency and no to this waiver by making a public comment at tonight’s City Council meeting.

Here’s the backstory: The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) needed new radios because its radios purchased in 2011 are no longer supported by the manufacturer. It also needed encrypted radios to comply with the California Department of Justice privacy requirements, despite the fact that its current technology already meets these standards. In addition, both the police and fire departments recommended an instant mass notification system in the event of an emergency. These expenditures were included in the 2022 Budget. 

In December 2020, the City Manager received a quote from Motorola Solutions for $6.4M for public safety radios. This purchase would include a $1M discount if signed before the expiration date of Sept. 30, 2021. The city did not put out a Request for Proposal, though, and did not solicit even a single quote from a Motorola competitor.

The City Council waited more than nine months, until two days before the quote expired, to railroad this purchase through and put it on the consent calendar. This left no room for discussion or debate and created its own set of problems.

A contract with Motorola Solutions violates the Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance that the council voted unanimously for in 2019. This ordinance prohibits the City from entering an agreement with a Person or Entity that provides the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with any “Data Broker” or “Extreme Vetting” services. ICE has been a client of Motorola Solutions for years. 

According to the American Friends’ Service Committee, “Between 2016 and 2019, through a series of acquisitions, Motorola Solutions has transformed from a communications company into a mass surveillance company. Motorola Solutions’ subsidiary Vigilant Solutions is a leading supplier of license plate recognition software and data used in the U.S. by police agencies, who in turn share this information with ICE to facilitate deportations.”

City leadership must be committed to and engaged in reimagining public safety. That task force was not consulted about this massive investment. Neither was the Police Accountability Board, a new police oversight body created because of last November’s overwhelming voter support. 

Mayor Jesse Arreguin’s response to the multitude of public pleas to simply adhere to convention and discuss this item was to defend our Sanctuary policy: “…no city employee or police officer will collaborate with ICE.” What he’s referring to is Berkeley’s Sanctuary Policy, enacted in 1971 to protect sailors resisting the Vietnam War, which was expanded in 2017 to protect our undocumented immigrant community. This has no bearing on whether the city can purchase radios from Motorola. 

The Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance is a separate piece of legislation passed in 2019 — with Mayor Arreguin’s vote — that prevents the city from doing business with those who do business with ICE. This 2019 ordinance, not the 2017 expansion of the city’s sanctuary policy, is what is being trampled by the contract with Motorola. Mayor Arreguin was either being disingenuous or was terribly uninformed. He also confirmed with the City Manager that a waiver to the Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance would make the contract legitimate and that she should prepare such a waiver.

Then, there was Councilmember Susan Wengraf’s misinformed and reactive response — “The fact is: if we don’t go with this contract, we will not be able to communicate with our neighbors…The fact is: Berkeley will be hurt if we don’t go with this contract.” What are these “facts” based on exactly? 

According to a representative from Red Cloud Inc., Motorola’s wireless solutions provider, its radios are made to conform to APCO P25 standards and are fully compatible and interoperable with many other radios (including encryption). Also, since Motorola practically has a monopoly on the public safety radio sector, some believe that taxpayers are paying far too much for their radios. 

Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Ben Bartlett were the only two council members who had the courage to take a stand for the discussion and debate of this major issue. This hurried $6.5M purchase is in direct opposition to the values this council committed to the people of Berkeley to uphold.

The waiver is now on tonight’s agenda on the consent calendar. Call and email the mayor and your council member and implore them to decline the waiver to the Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance for the Motorola Solutions lease. Plan to make a public comment at Tuesday’s special meeting. The time is now to stand together for integrity and transparency in our governance and human rights. If not now, when?

Elana Auerbach is a Berkeley resident of over 15 years. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.