Berkeley Officials Apologize for Deleting Emails Protesting Plans to Kill Squirrels

Officials in Berkeley, a California city famous for its 1960s free speech movement, said they're sorry for deleting thousands of emails that poured in protesting plans to exterminate squirrels overrunning a park.

Councilman Kriss Worthington is demanding answers to why 81,000 messages vanished from his email account, and he also wants to find an alternative to killing the squirrels. He described peering at his computer screen, when the messages suddenly vanished.

"It's very concerning,'' Worthington told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Members of In Defense of Animals, based across the bay in San Rafael, sent in thousands of the form letter to 14 people at Berkeley's City Hall over one week, triggering a malicious spam alert. "It strikes us as very suspicious," Anja Heister, a group spokeswoman, said of the mass deletion.

City spokesman Mathai Chakko told the newspaper that the emails were erased by order, fearing an overload would crash city computers, including those of police and fire. He said the messages should have been quarantined, not deleted.

"It was a mistake,'' he said.

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel apologized. She said some council members didn't know about the letters because they had been deleted.

Yet, City Hall maintains squirrels and gophers at Cesar Chavez Park need to go. Their burrows may send toxins from an old dump under the park into the nearby San Francisco Bay. City officials say they're trying to strike a balance.

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