University threatens to evict co-ops

    A series of negotiations between Associated Students, the Graduate Student Association and University Centers that began last spring still unresolved, university administrators may evict the campus co-ops from their currently leased spaces on Oct. 15.

    The dispute among the parties involves two documents that govern the way the four co-ops — the Food Co-op, Groundwork Books, the General Store and Ché Café — rent the facilities they currently occupy. Under the Master Space Agreement, Associated Students and the Graduate Students Association lease the space from University Centers and, in turn, sublease the facilities to the co-ops under the terms of a separate Memorandum of Understanding.

    Administrators at University Centers have refused to renew the Master Space Agreement after its expiration on April 29, insisting that the document must include proposed changes in the lease and operating policies. As negotiations continued past the expiration date, the co-ops rented space on a month-to-month basis, pending a final outcome.

    During the ensuing talks, the parties have continued arguing over the expiration date of the two documents governing the terms of the co-op leases.

    In a May 27 letter to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Carmen Vazquez, co-op attorney Lottie Cohen argued that the MOU had no legal expiration date. In an Aug. 27 response, Director of Student Policies and Judicial Affairs Nicholas S. Aguilar stated that the MOU had expired in May 1998 and had never been renewed.

    “A perpetual lease was neither negotiated nor even contemplated,” Aguilar stated in the letter.

    Aguilar’s letter also pointed out that the current month-to-month lease would terminate on Oct. 15 if a new agreement was not reached between Associated Students, the Graduate Student Association and University Centers.

    Since summer, A.S. President Jenn Pae, GSA president Kristopher Kohler, University Centers Director Gary Ratcliffe and Vazquez have continued negotiating the terms of a new Master Space Agreement and MOU.

    “I understand that the Master Space Agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding are documents that were drafted way back when and then amended, so I understand that we need to modify and update [them],” Pae said. “Now the university’s taking another stance in the aspect that the [Master Space Agreement] and the MOU are no longer going to exist … something that we, of course, never negotiated.”

    The Graduate Student Association’s interpretation of the previous agreements argues that the previous contracts were to be in effect for five years, with Associated Student and the Graduate Student Association retaining the option to grant two-year renewals. Both bodies passed resolutions last spring to renew the documents for another two years.

    “It’s not the case that the MOU is in perpetuity; what is the case is that if the A.S. and GSA … believe that the co-ops are serving students’ interests [and] operating in reasonable ways … [then they] can vote for two-year renewal options,” Kohler said. “If at any time they decide not to renew … then the MOU would expire.”

    However, University Centers officials have said that the contracts were never designed to last indefinitely and are pushing for new language that would introduce concrete lease terms and other operating procedures into the documents. According to Vazquez, University Centers would like to combine the Master Space Agreement and MOU into one overarching operating agreement, with sub-lease agreements customized for each co-op.

    “Essentially, what [we] need to do right now is to focus on one operating agreement, get the terms established, and then the A.S. and GSA can begin working with the co-ops on each of their [leases],” Vazquez said.

    However, during a council discussion, A.S. Vice President External Rigo Marquez accused the university of using the complicated negotiation process to force out the co-ops and replace them with more profitable ventures.

    Under current lease terms, the co-ops pay rent that is 20 times below market value.

    Ratcliffe denied the charges, saying that administrators’ main concern is the students’ interest. The lease agreement sought by the university is standard practice, and the terms of the one offered to the co-ops may be more lenient than most, he said.

    “The agreements are something that’s necessary, and if it was an entity other than the co-ops, it would actually be a fairly routine process,” Ratcliffe said. “[The co-ops] really view that MOU as … their security blanket. It gives them peace of mind about their status here. So for us to say that it’s time to get what we view as better-functioning documents is for them fairly traumatic.”

    Student negotiators have said that the threat of an Oct. 15 deadline put the co-ops at a disadvantageous position during negotiations. However, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson denied their requests for an extension of the cut-off date, Pae said.

    “When one side is threatening with termination, then it doesn’t make for a very equitable negotiating environment,” Kohler said.

    In an Aug. 23 letter, Aguilar stated that the university would terminate the current month-to-month lease by that date “only if substantial progress is made toward crafting a new lease [or] operating agreement which addresses the concerns of UCSD.”

    According to Pae and Kohler, the university will be the sole judge on whether “substantial progress” has been made. If no agreement is reached, the university might unilaterally implement new documents, Kohler said.

    “If they cannot unilaterally implement a new agreement, I think the university, because of the self-imposed deadline, has put themselves in a position where they’re going to be forced to kick the co-ops out of their spaces,” Kohler said.

    The co-op oversight committee, which was established by the MOU, has not participated in the negotiation process. The university argues that since the MOU has expired, the committee no longer exists.

    “I do think the [committee] is a neutral body with open channels of communication, so it would be a good forum for negotiation, but I can understand why it’s not the best,” committee chair Kate Pillon said.

    Associated Students, the Graduate Student Association and University Centers will continue negotiating until the October deadline. At its Sept. 29 meeting, the A.S. Council agreed in a non-binding vote to seek legal counsel.

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