Small Steps to Halt the American Military Machine

Initiative Targets Military Recruitment. November Ballot Proposal Would Limit Where Centers Could Be Built, Require Public Hearing
By Taylor Fife, Jan 31, 2008, 19:38

In response to a Marine Corps recruiting office established in Berkeley last year, local activists are trying to make it more difficult for future recruiting centers to open in the city.

If passed by a majority of Berkeley voters, a proposed initiative would require military recruiting offices and private military companies in Berkeley to first acquire a special use permit.

To obtain this permit, a business must hold public hearings and a public comment period.

If the initiative passes, recruitment offices could not be opened within 600 feet of residential districts, public parks, public health clinics, public libraries, schools or churches.

Currently, a recruiting office is held to the same standards as most other businesses, which do not require a public hearing or have limits on where offices can be established.

The author of the initiative, Berkeley-based lawyer Sharon Adams, modeled the initiative after current zoning law that restricts the location of adult-oriented businesses.

“In the same way that many communities limit the location of pornographic stores, that’s the same way we feel about the military recruiting stations,” said PhoeBe sorgen, an initiative proponent and a member of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. “Teenagers that really want to find them will be able to seek them out and find them, but we don’t want them in our face.”

The initiative lists complaints against the military including the invasion of Iraq, abuses at Abu Ghraib, discrimination based on sexual orientation and recruiters who mislead potential recruits about benefits and duties.

Recruiters from the office declined to comment.

The primary purpose of the new zoning law would be to protect young people from undue influence from military recruiters, supporters say.

“We feel that as a community we need to protect the youth,” Adams said. “We’re trying to level the playing field.”

Berkeley Councilmember Dona Spring said she supports the wording of the initiative, but said she would prefer the issue be passed by council so it can be enacted faster rather than waiting for the initiative to be placed on the ballot in November.

“I think we should just go ahead and pass it,” she said. “We can’t take everything to the voters.”

But some proponents are hesitant to pass the ordinance through the council because they feel it might be watered down by other council members.

In addition to making it more difficult for future military recruiting centers to be established, Spring also said she would support action that would remove the current office, which is in her district.

“I do want to do something, whatever we can do, to shut down an agency that offends our public standards,” she said. “It’s a detriment, it’s a danger to the public.”

Code Pink has staged demonstrations against the recruitment center every Wednesday in front of the center on Shattuck Avenue since Sept. 26.

The Marine Recruitment Center, which has been located in Berkeley since mid-2007, is the only military recruitment center in Berkeley.

Proponents hope that this ordinance will become a template for communities around the country to follow.

“We hope this is a model for other places,” Adams said. “I have already gotten e-mails from people trying to duplicate this.”

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