Nuclear-Free Zone Status Brings Legal, Economic Fallout to Cities
When Marin County, Calif., and Takoma Park, Md., were in the market for new communications gear for their governments, they took into account more than quality, price and delivery date.
They thought anti-nuclear.
The two are among a growing number of communities across the country grappling with the legal and economic fallout of nuclear-free zone declarations that tightly restrict business dealings with companies involved in nuclear weapons work.
Opponents contend that such measures are politically misdirected and costly in terms of money, jobs and potential lawsuits. In cities such as Palo Alto and Santa Cruz, Cambridge, Mass., and Ann Arbor, Mich., voters have rejected nuclear-free zones.
“When you start talking money, people start to listen,” said Albert Donay of Nuclear Free America, an international clearinghouse and research center in Baltimore.
“We’re not trying to throw people out of work here,” said attorney Richard Raznikov, chairman of Marin County’s Peace Conversion Commission.
The goal of nuclear-free zones is, ultimately, “to avoid . . . nuclear annihilation.” The idea is to halt buying from companies that manufacture nuclear weapons or components of nuclear weapons and financially pressure them to switch to non-nuclear pursuits.
“They’re going to scare off nuclear weapons contractors. That’s exactly what the law is supposed to do,” Donay said.
“The more communities that make this kind of statement, the better chance we have to influence our government and others around the world. I think it’s a citizen-based movement that has a chance, if we can stay alive long enough, to have an impact on the arms race,” he said.
Prof. Michael Teitz of UC Berkeley’s city and regional planning department doubts the movement will spread and is uncertain of its impact.
“There’s no question that boycotts can change company behavior,” he said. “We’ve seen that with the South African thing. Whether they have overall significant effects is another question.”
Robert Alpern, the chairman ofTakoma Park’s nuclear-free committee, said his city’s ordinance is the model for most other cities’ strong regulations. The city of 17,000 near Washington, D.C., implemented its ordinance in 1983.
“The thing is going to expand and be a very profound force in our society,” predicted Alpern, a lobbyist for the Unitarian-Universalist Assn. of Churches. “It’s not going to be quick or easy, and it’s going to meet a lot of challenges.”
There are 143 declared nuclear-free zones in the United States, said Donay, but only a few reach beyond symbolic acts like erecting road signs declaring, “You are now entering a nuclear-free zone.”
Alpern said communities with the ordinances include, besides Marin and Takoma Park: Berkeley; Jersey City and Hoboken, N.J.; Amherst, Mass., and Hood River County, Ore.
The Chicago City Council has called for a ban on design, production and storage of nuclear weapons by March this year. In Berkeley, peace commissioner Steve Bloom said the city has a November goal for halting investing from companies linked to nuclear arms work and halting purchases from such companies.
Bloom is working to put a similar measure on the ballot next June in San Francisco and Oakland. San Franciscans in November endorsed a nuclear-free zone with only cosmetic effect.
Palo Alto voters rejected a strong nuclear-free zone measure by 71.4% in November, 1987. Councilman Larry Kline said the proposal was similar to Marin’s.
It would have required any company involved in nuclear arms work to leave town within four years, and Kline said he knew of at least one company that would have taken its 2,500 workers elsewhere.
It also would have forbidden buying from or selling to “entities” linked to nuclear weapons work. Kline said Palo Alto would have been in for a shock because it buys most of its electricity from the federal government.
Ordinance supporters said the city could buy electricity from a public utility instead--at a cost Kline estimated at an additional $4 million to $5 million a year.
He said he and other city officials spoke with Marin County administrators, who said the nuclear-free rule there “was very rapidly becoming a difficult, nightmare situation for them.”
“As far as I know, we unfortunately are on the cutting edge of this and I think it will severely set back our services,” said John Barrow, Marin County administrator.
County Counsel Doug Maloney warned that lists of reported nuclear weapons contractors, such as those supplied by Nuclear Free America, are subject to change and interpretation and serve “like any kind of a blacklist.”
Such reported links to weapons work must be proved independently and companies must be allowed to have their say, he said. And some reports cannot be independently checked, he added, because some government contracts are top secret.
“It’s kind of a murky area . . . like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Maloney said.
Donay said his organization bases its list on contracts with the U.S. Defense Department reported by the federal procurement data service and Energy Department contracts that fall under Nuclear Free America’s definition of nuclear weapons.
That definition includes launch guidance and delivery systems, and systems that could be equipped with nuclear or conventional warheads, he said.
Among the companies listed are IBM and Motorola.
At the San Francisco offices of International Business Machines Inc., spokesman John Boudreaux said, “IBM is not engaged in the development, production or manufacture of any component designed or intended for exclusive use as part of a nuclear weapon.”
A Motorola Inc. spokesman in Chicago said the company’s electronics group is involved in design, development and production of advanced electrical and optical fusing systems used in various weapons systems.
But the spokesman, who asked not to be identified by name, said Motorola still sells communications equipment to Marin County.
Marin and other communities with strong ordinances generally allow for products and services to be purchased from, or produced by, nuclear-linked companies if no reasonable alternative can be found.
In Marin’s review of communications equipment, Peace Commission member Brady Bevis said the county could have saved money by going with a company rather than AT&T;, but chose to stay with the communications giant because “it seemed easier to go with one big package.”
For Takoma Park, Alpern said General Electric bid on supplying police radios but wouldn’t sign a statement that it and its subsidiaries weren’t involved in nuclear weapons work.
“We sought other suppliers and we found one,” he said, adding that the city saved $40,000 in the process.