EL CERRITO -- An effort to alter the traditional Pledge of Allegiance at the start of City Council meetings to focus more on the council's mandate to serve the city fizzled Tuesday evening.

Mayor Greg Lyman and council members Rebecca Benassini, Janet Abelson and Jan Bridges declined to bring to a vote Councilman Mark Friedman's motion to change the traditional pledge recited at the beginning of council meetings to "I pledge to serve the people of El Cerrito and to work for liberty and justice for all."

After a short debate, council members agreed unanimously to continue reciting the pledge but to alter the item placed on council meeting agendas to read "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag or Observe a Moment of Silence" in recognition of attendees who choose not to recite the pledge.

Friedman, who served as a council member during the '90s and early 2000s and was elected in November, said he had wanted to make the change for several reasons.

He said he was elected to serve El Cerrito residents and not the entire United States and that the world has changed since the original pledge was written in 1894.

"We are interdependent with the rest of the world, working on the problems of global warming and poverty," Friedman said. "Are we really providing liberty and justice for all?"

Friedman added that the pledge has been revised three times, including the addition of the words "under God" in 1954.


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"When we say 'under God,' whose God do we mean?" asked Friedman, who emphasized he was not offering the suggestion out of "antipatriotic sentiment" and that "some on the left and the right oppose" reciting the pledge.

Alameda and Berkeley are among other local cities that have stopped reciting the pledge, he said.

Other council members rejected the idea politely.

"I see it as a moment of reflection; it begins the meeting in a harmonious way," Benassini said. "We had the pledge and a prayer (to begin meetings) years ago, and we dropped the prayer."

Said Abelson, "The idea of changing it and saying 'El Cerrito' doesn't appeal to me. I like to think we're not so isolated."

"When I stand up here (as mayor), the pledge is no longer rote," Lyman said. "With all due respect, I would prefer to have a spot for the pledge."

Earlier in the meeting, El Cerrito police Lt. Paul Keith made a presentation about crime statistics along the Ohlone Greenway that follows the BART tracks.

Despite a Jan. 23 incident in which two Albany High students were shot on the Greenway, crime on the path is down since 2008. There were 27 robberies and five assaults in that year and two robberies and no assaults in 2012, Keith said.

"We made changes in patrols and in landscaping to provide better sightlines to reduce crime," Keith said.

The city has also received a National Night Out Award for its participation in the annual community-building event held Aug. 7 last year.

That evening, there were 29 block parties attended by a total of 1,500 residents, placing El Cerrito 13th nationally among 200 communities in its population category, police Lt. Robert De La Campa told the council.