The West Hollywood City Council has adopted an amended anti-apartheid policy that is not as far-reaching as the outright ban on doing businesses with companies having South African connections that the council first enacted. The new policy allows the city to buy products from companies that do business in South Africa if reasonably priced alternatives are not available.
Council members said the amendment maintains a strong divestiture policy without hampering the operation of the city. Leaders of local anti-apartheid groups also said they are satisfied with the council's position, taken in a vote Thursday night, although it is a retreat from the total purchasing ban approved by the city in April.
Experts called the original ordinance one of the toughest in the country. It went further than those cities that simply altered investment policies. Shortly after passage of the law, West Hollywood officials stopped buying Coca-Cola for City Hall and for council meetings because Coca-Cola Co. operates in South Africa. They avoided buying typewriters from IBM, another industry giant with large South African holdings.
When it came to buying computers, automobiles and other major items, however, the city balked. City officials said prohibiting bids from companies with South African ties would force the city to buy inferior or more expensive products.
For example, Hewlett-Packard, a specialist in computer systems for cities, operates a sales subsidiary in South Africa. City Manager Paul Brotzman said if the company were eliminated from bidding, the city might be forced to develop its own computer software. "That can be extremely expensive," Brotzman said.
The amended ordinance allows Brotzman to lift the purchasing ban when: "The special characteristics of (a) particular product offered by the firm are necessary for the efficient operation of the city or the health, safety and welfare of the public, and no comparable product is available at a reasonably comparable price."
The council voted 4 to 1 for the amendment. Councilwoman Valerie Terrigno voted against the change, calling it "not strong enough." Terrigno said she favors the approach of other cities that have specified how much more they are willing to spend for a "clean" company, rather than one with ties to South Africa.
But Zakhele Cenge, a local representative of the African National Congress, the organization outlawed in South Africa that is in the forefront of the fight to bring down apartheid laws in that country, praised the City Council for the law. Cenge called West Hollywood's ordinance the "strongest on the West Coast," despite the amendment.