The boycott-crazy city of Berkeley is learning a tough lesson: It may be hard to drive the moral high road when you can’t buy gas.
Tuesday night, the City Council voted to boycott two oil companies that do business with Nigeria. The 7-0 vote ruled out Shell and Chevron as possible suppliers of gasoline for city vehicles.
Arco, Unocal, Mobil and Texaco were already boycotted under a policy that protests human rights violations in Burma. While Exxon is not formally boycotted, it is on the “out” list because of its response to the Valdez oil spill in Alaska, said Acting Finance Director Frances David.
That leaves the city with no brand-name fuel politically correct enough to power the city’s police cars, street sweepers, garbage trucks, the mayor’s car or any other official vehicle.
The result of all this:
“It is possible that the city will be limited to purchasing ‘off-brand’ gasoline, which may be of lower quality,” said David, leading to “the potential for damage to fleet engines and other equipment.”
One early and tangible result of the expected Nigerian boycott will take place in City Hall’s soda machines. Right now, the brand of choice is Coca-Cola, because rival Pepsi had at one time done business with Burma. But Coke, the city contends, does business in Nigeria.
“We’ll probably revert to Pepsi because they have now divested from Burma,” David said, grappling to explain the minutiae of sweeping resolutions.
Berkeley - a municipality that officially refers to manholes as “sewer openings” to avoid sexism - was the first city in America to boycott companies doing business with South Africa.
After decades of using its local forum to make international statements, the City Council faces the first serious tests of its social conscience. The fuel flap is the second such problem in under a month to face this brash city of about 100,000. Two weeks ago, city officials received a quarter-inch-thick book listing all companies that do business with Burma - a nation that Berkeley decided in 1995 to boycott because of its military government.
As a result, the city now must find a new overnight mail service; Federal Express and United Parcel Service are out because they do business in Burma. Currently, the ban only applies to outgoing mail from Berkeley. The city - at least for now - will continue to accept packages sent to it via Fed Ex or UPS.
Motorola cell phones have to be replaced, and IBM and Compaq computers are on the “no” list too. Add this to the fact that the city has long eschewed Hewlett Packard and NEC products, David said, because they do business with defense contractors making nuclear weapons.
Dell Computer Corp. is the city’s current computer vendor. That’s OK, David said, “so far.”
“Some people say we’re the only city with a foreign policy,” said Mayor Shirley Dean, who notes that Berkeley declared one of the nation’s early municipal nuclear-free zones. “I think it’s more of social consciousness. Look what happened with South Africa.”
Economic pressure did indeed lead to the fall of apartheid in South Africa, with Berkeley leading the way in the United States with its 1979 decision to remove its funds from banks that had ties to that once racially divided country.
xxxx NO CITY IS AN ISLAND The resolution approved by the Berkeley City Council reads in part: “The citizens of the city of Berkeley, believing that their quality of life is diminished when peace and justice are not fully present in the world, … recognize the responsibility of local communities to take positive steps to support the rule of law and to help end injustices and egregious violations of human rights wherever they occur.”