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Public Officials Arrested at A-Test Site

December 14, 1987|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

MERCURY, Nev. — In a showing of solidarity with grass-roots opponents of nuclear testing, a number of locally elected officials, including seven from California, were arrested Sunday during a protest at the Nevada Test Site.

The protest was held in conjunction with the reading of the so-called "Nevada Declaration," the brainchild of Irvine, Calif., Mayor Larry Agran. Signed by more than 700 elected officials from nearly 30 states since it began circulating last August, the declaration calls for the United States and the Soviet Union to "swiftly conclude a permanent Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

Among those arrested at the test site, 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas, were Santa Monica Mayor James Conn and Santa Monica council members David Finkel and Dennis Zane; Inglewood Councilman Daniel K. Tabor; Oakland Councilman Wilson Riles Jr. and West Hollywood council members Helen Albert and John Heilman.

For Conn, who also is a United Methodist Church minister, the arrest was his second at the test site this year.

Four other council members, including two from Minnesota and one each from Jersey City, N.J., and Austin, Tex., also were arrested.

Irvine Mayor Agran and about a dozen other elected officials, including Laguna Beach Councilwoman Lida Lenney, held protest signs at the main gate, but did not cross over. Agran said earlier that his decision not to risk arrest was based partly on his hope that by avoiding what could be construed as a controversial action he might be able to persuade many more mayors and city council members to sign the Nevada Declaration.

The elected officials, along with more than 160 other protesters arrested for trespassing at the test site, were released several hours later after receiving citations. Most of the protesters were from the Los Angeles area and associated with SANE/Freeze, organizers said. Those arrested are not expected to be prosecuted, however, under a policy announced last April by the Nye County district attorney's office.

The demonstration, held on a chilly morning made even more bitter by strong winds, was staged about 100 yards from the entrance to the test site facility. About 250 people, many of them unprepared for the cold temperatures that dipped below 40 degrees, huddled on makeshift bleachers as about a dozen elected officials made mercifully short speeches about halting testing at the site and elsewhere.

The protest was much smaller than many other demonstrations held at the test site over the years. But it was nevertheless significant, organizers said, because it brought a number of elected officials to the forefront of the nuclear freeze movement.

Riles, son of the former state superintendent of public instruction, said the defense budget has resulted in a monetary drain on the nation's cities.

"The nuclear weapon is the central part of American foreign policy at this time and the foreign policy and defense budget is absorbing all the resources of this country, stealing it away from the streets of Oakland and other communities," said Riles, who has been on his city's council since 1979. "We've got homelessness, we've got poverty, we've got joblessness. We cannot afford any longer to consider this kind of policy."

Sunday's protest coincided with the National League of Cities' annual conference in Las Vegas. But considering that nearly 3,000 convention-goers were on hand at the Las Vegas Hilton, the test site turnout was a meager one. Among the events competing with the protest was a well-attended address by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Riles and other officials such as Irvine's Agran and Santa Monica's Conn said that despite the relatively sparse turnout, the cities can no longer afford to sit idly by while the federal budget pumps more and more money into defense.

Agran admitted in an interview, however, that some local council members and mayors are, in effect, shy about voicing their views on foreign policy and particularly on an issue so volatile as nuclear weapons testing.

Also still a sensitive issue with some elected officials is whether to cross a no-trespassing sign even if it has become only a symbolic gesture with Nye County's no-prosecution policy.

Conn, who also was arrested last May, said that he has won strong backing in Santa Monica over his stand. But he added that "some elected officials are in a situation where it would be political suicide" if they deliberately broke the law.

Inglewood Councilman Tabor, referring to that city's large black population, said after his arrest that he expects no political problems from it.

"I think in Inglewood, civil disobedience has a prominent role . . . because many people benefited by civil disobedience in the civil rights movement," Tabor said.

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