Local Company to Leave Berkeley Due to Protests

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A software company in Downtown Berkeley has announced it will be relocating outside of the city, citing what they claim is a "non-response" to crime by Berkeley police officers, who are forced instead to deal with protests at the Marine recruiting center.

Avontus Software, which has been based in Berkeley for more than a year, is one of many businesses affected by anti-war protests surrounding the recruiting center.

The city's decision to support Code Pink and other anti-war groups protesting the center by granting noise and parking permits has been detrimental to the business climate, according to Brian Webb, Avontus Software chief executive officer.

"All they're doing is giving our city negative press-they're removing our businesses," Webb said. "I actually have had to remove our address from our Web site because we received negative feedback from our customers about being here."

Webb's complaint is one of many the city has received about demonstrations disrupting business Downtown.

"There definitely are a lot of businesses, particularly in that area, that are concerned with the noise," said Dave Fogarty, the economic development coordinator with the city. "Customers are being driven away because of the lack of parking and the difficulty of getting to the businesses."

But Webb said it was not the noise but the high crime rate that prompted his decision to relocate.

Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss acknowledged that the increased manpower at the protests has sometimes taken away from other police roles.

"Property crimes have been historically our greatest challenge," Kusmiss said. "There have been days when the protests and demonstrations have had an impact on our ability to provide services to the community."

In 2007, Berkeley experienced 7,279 property crimes, a figure that has been consistent through the years, she said.

Webb said he thinks the council is misdirecting police and city funds.

"I actually agree with City Council-I think the war is bad, but the way they're dealing with it is not the proper way," he said. "They're not focusing on crime, they're focusing on anti-war issues."

But city officials say police resources have not been concentrated improperly.

"(Police) involved in the Marine recruiting center demonstrations are overtime, it's not the regular crew," said Councilmember Dona Spring, who represents the Downtown area.

While businesses across the nation are suffering from an economic slump, Webb said he believes Berkeley's anti-war stance has been an added negative.

"We're probably more hit more economically because of the construction downturn, but we have lost customers because they don't want to do business in Berkeley," Webb said.

But Chamber of Commerce CEO Ted Garrett said he is not worried that more businesses will move because of Berkeley's relationship with the center.

"Quite honestly, I would question the sensibility of any businessperson for moving because of City Council actions," he said. "Business decisions generally are not made on a political basis."

Avontus Software, which anticipates moving in the next several months, is the first business to leave Berkeley for reasons relating to the center, according to Spring.

"I'm sorry to hear they're leaving, but I think it's inevitable given the conflict that is happening with the Marine recruiting center," Spring said. "... I don't see how the businesses in that square can sustain the kind of controversy that the Marine recruiting center has had on that locale."


Jessica Kwong covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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