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Symantec and the nudists

Symantec is caught up in local politics involving nudists and environmentalists in Eugene, Oregon.

First it was the nudists. Then it was the environmentalists. Then came the police in riot gear armed with pepper spray and tear gas.

Software companies don't normally have to deal with these kinds of problems. But Symantec has been in hot water with some of its neighbors at its facility in Eugene, Oregon, a city that is supposed to be a new haven for technology companies.

A week ago Tuesday, a group of nudists staged a protest in front of the Symantec building. Then on Sunday, an environmental protest erupted into violence as Eugene police forcibly removed tree-sitting activists at the site of a planned housing, parking, and retail complex across from the building.

The complex, called Broadway Place, is a city-sponsored project, but some protesters say that it was a tax-funded quid pro quo for Symantec's agreement to settle there. Symantec denies that charge.

Eleven protesters, including members of the environmental activist group Earth First, climbed several of 38 trees slated for removal by the city. By the end of the protest, 22 people were arrested on charges including trespassing, disorderly conduct, assaulting a police officer, and obstruction of justice.

Protesters have accused the police of brutality.

Symantec president and CEO Gordon Eubanks defended his company's conduct in Eugene. "We're trying to be good citizens," said Eubanks. "We've tried to make sure there's adequate infrastructure to provide for our employees."

Eubanks said his company was conducting its own investigation into the the tree protest, and expressed dismay at the charges of police brutality. "I think a head of lettuce could figure out it's better to be patient than put anyone at risk over a parking lot," he said. "For anyone to imply that we encourage aggressiveness is simply not true."

Parking and tree removal have not been the only civic issues to dog Symantec this spring. On Tuesday, May 27, ten protesters clad only in mud and loincloths staged a protest against the company for allegedly supporting an ordinance banning toplessness in the downtown area. Eugene currently has no such ordinance.

Eubanks vigorously denied that his company had supported such an ordinance, explaining that two company employees who found the view from their office distracting had written the city council advocating an antinudity ordinance, and had done so improperly on company letterhead. Eubanks said he subsequently contacted the mayor and explained that Symantec had no position on the issue.

"I personally could not care less if people go topless in the mall," said Eubanks. "We completely support our employees' ability to have their point of view, but the company does not take political positions."