Talks for Co-op lease renewal break down

    Negotiations to renew the Master Space Agreement, the contract leasing out university co-op spaces to Associated Students and the Graduate Student Association, have stalled.

    The co-ops, through a legal representative, requested to go into an informal dispute resolution during a May 28 meeting of the Co-op Oversight Committee. The letter, addressed to University Centers Advisory Board Co-Chair Carmen Vazquez, claims that the university is in breach of the existing agreement.

    Since April, the co-ops have been in the process of renewing the agreement with the university. However, University Centers submitted changes to the agreement on April 23 stating that it would not renew the agreement in its current form unless the changes were made. Since then, the co-ops have been operating under the current MSA on a month-to-month basis.

    According to the letter sent to Vazquez by the Law Offices of Lottie Cohen, the Memorandum of Understanding — the document that explains the leasing relationship between the co-ops and the university — grants only the A.S. Council and the GSA the powers to renew the agreement. According to the memorandum, the university leases spaces to Associated Students and the GSA, who in turn can sublease to the co-ops, which include the General Store, the Ché Café, the Food Co-op and Groundwork Bookstore.

    Despite the ongoing process of renewing the agreement, the letter states that the agreement and the memorandum are still “fully in effect” and do not “need the approval” of the university. Vazquez and University Centers Director Gary Ratcliff could not be reached at press time.

    According to Co-op Oversight Committee Chair Kate Pillon, all parties are still awaiting a response from the university, though the May 29 deadline the committee set has been missed.

    “We’re in a limbo state right now and negotiations are on hold because of some legal issues,” Pillon said. “We’re waiting for the university’s response, and negotiations for the existing MSA have stopped.”

    The letter also stated that the refusal of UCAB to renew without the proposed changes is “an unfair if not an illegal breach of the Memorandum of Understanding.”

    UCAB Co-Chair Justin Williams said he had initially thought that all parties were close to renewing the agreement. Williams said that he disagreed with the claims in the letter.

    “In my opinion, [the letter] is just how the co-ops feel about the situation, and there is no explicit validity of their view of how this process has gone,” Williams said. “The negotiation process has been open and fair.”

    Some of the changes proposed by University Centers included specifying whether certain parts of the space are the co-ops’ and clarifying the university’s responsibility to maintain regulations on how to request repairs for the spaces.

    According to Williams, the proposed changes were necessary for health and safety reasons and included clarifications within the agreement.

    Williams said that the stalled negotiations could also affect the agreement for a Food Co-op satellite location in Price Center, which has been under discussion since last year.

    “My greatest concern was that the co-ops have sought legal representation, while it is within their right to do so, because negotiations have entered a realm that is out of student control,” Williams said. “We’re not sure what’s going to come out of it — what it means — but things could possibly get more complicated.”

    According to GSA Vice President of Finance Greg Musiker, the GSA is currently consulting its own lawyer to help determine what kind of effects the letter could have on the organization.

    “At this point, lawyers have been brought in and the GSA will have to consult with them before pursuing further action,” Musiker said. “The GSA is in the process of consulting with the lawyer, mainly to help us with what to focus on in the letter.”

    According to Pillon, with the co-ops invoking a part of the Memorandum of Understanding that deals with the process for informal dispute resolutions, the Co-op Oversight Committee could be the body that hears arguments from both sides.

    “I’m not sure if this is the phase that we’re going to stay at, or if we’ll be able to work it out,” Pillon said. “We don’t know what phase we’ll be in since the university has not had the opportunity to reply. [The May 29 meeting] was the first time any of us heard of this, and we can’t do anything but speculate.”

    The Co-op Oversight Committee consists of five voting members with representatives from Associated Students, the GSA and UCAB. There are also non-voting members representing each of the co-ops.

    “It is the committee’s responsibility to act as a buffer between the university and the co-ops,” Pillon said. “The committee is really the body that hears informal disputes and kind of resolves any problems between the parties.”

    In 1993, the Law Offices of Lottie Cohen wrote and negotiated the Memorandum currently in effect after what Cohen called “forceful lock-out and attempts to shut down” the co-ops. Cohen claimed the current situation is similar to past problems.

    “My clients and I are aware of the [UCSD] administration’s bad-faith motives, improper interjection into the co-operatives’ affairs and misstatements of fact and law, all of which have been part of an intentional effort to squeeze non-profit co-operatives out of space in the University Centers in favor of profit-making enterprises,” Cohen stated in the letter.

    The letter also suggested that the university seek its own legal counsel and suggested scheduling a resolution meeting between June 12 and June 20.

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