BERKELEY — It's so calm at the once-embattled United States Marine Corps recruiting center in Berkeley that a group of enlisted men and women were able to have a pizza party inside Tuesday afternoon.
And they didn't have to wade through throngs of screaming protesters to get into their downtown office.
"The interest in the (Marine recruiting center) has waned. (The protesters) have been pretty well-behaved lately," said police spokesman Officer Andrew Frankel.
A handful of Code Pink protesters were in front of the center at 64 Shattuck Square May 21 — their usual day of the week — but the turnout was extremely low compared with recent months when hundreds came out weekly to protest the military enlistment site.
"Protests at the Marine recruiting station have been calm lately," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. "Berkeley remains firmly opposed to the Iraq war and we respect people's right to free speech. We appreciate that the protests have been peaceful and less disruptive to the local businesses that are trying to survive in these difficult economic times."
On Jan. 29, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution calling the downtown Berkeley military recruitment center "uninvited and unwelcome intruders," sparking national outrage.
Amid heavy criticism and threats by Republican lawmakers to withdraw federal funding, council members moderated their position Feb. 12, saying they oppose the war in Iraq but support the troops. Rallies before the council's vote drew about 2,000 people to Old City Hall.
Since then, Code Pink, The World Can't Wait: Drive out the Bush Regime and other groups have continued to hold weekly protests at the Marine recruiting center.
The rallies in February, March and April were so raucous the police department spent more than $210,000 on police overtime to try to keep the peace. Many protesters were arrested.
While the crowd has slackened, Code Pink officials say the weekly protests will continue until the recruitment center leaves town.
"I think that (the protests) will continue and I think the presence outside the recruiting center is an important piece of the campaign to reclaim our neighborhoods, but it can't be the only thing," said Rae Abileah, a national grass-roots coordinator with Code Pink.
She said some people don't understand the group's mission.
"We are not anti-troop but rather anti-war. We are not against the soldiers, we are against the way they are being misused in the Middle East," Abileah said.
She said the actions in front of the center are just one piece of the "counter-recruitment" process.
Code Pink is also supporting an effort to change zoning laws to make it more difficult for military recruitment centers to move into Berkeley.
A group of residents is collecting voter signatures in an attempt to get an initiative on the November ballot to make it more difficult for military recruiting offices to open in Berkeley. Now, it's a routine administrative process that doesn't require a public hearing or a public comment period.
A new law could mean a military office interested in opening within 600 feet of homes, parks, public health clinics, libraries, schools or churches would require a use permit with a public hearing.
A Marines spokesman said Tuesday that there are no plans to move the officer selection office from Berkeley. The lease runs until December 2009.
Code Pink activist Zanne Joi said people are at the center most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. A two-hour event was held Monday for Memorial Day, she said.
Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Ted Garrett said things have calmed down — much to the pleasure of the businesses, who were affected by the noise and the crowds at the rallies.
"We're proud that the Marine Corp is a dues-paying member of the Chamber of Commerce. We respect them and we support them," Garrett said.
While there is somewhat of a lull now, things could heat up as spring turns to summer. Eagles Up organizer Doug Lyvere said at least 500, possibly 700, motorcycle riders plan to converge on the center after 10 a.m. June 21.
"It's another troop-support mission," he said.
In March, about 400 motorcyclists participated in a pro-military rally at the Marine center after reportedly spending $25,000 to $30,000 in neighboring cities to penalize Berkeley financially for its anti-military stance.
What's more, Melanie Morgan of Move America Forward said her group is working to send 50,000 care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We are so tired of the negative media generated by Code Pink that Move America Forward is dedicating itself to a historic, cutting-edge concept where we are going to try to bring the largest amount of care packages in American history to the troops," Morgan said. "We are putting our energy into some positive, proactive affirmation for the men and women who are serving our country instead of dealing with the people who clearly despise our troops and their mission."