Admin, Co-op Spar Over Construction

The Student Center expansion promises to offer future space for new resources and services. Currently, however, the infrastructural mess of machinery and metal offers little more than frustration to many of the center’s stores. For Food Co-op employees, is not merely an inconvenience, but also a purported blow to sales and revenue that has allegedly been overlooked by university administrators.

Will Parson/Guardian
John Muir College senior Adam Calo, an employee of the Food Co-op, stands amid construction areas outside the business. According to Co-op employees, construction has severely impacted revenues and caused intermittent obstructions in water supply.

Employees from the Food Co-op, a student-run organization offering healthy meal alternatives to corporate food chains, have reported that the collective has experienced extensive problems, both financial and logistical, due to the surrounding construction. These difficulties include a significant reduction in space, blocked kitchen access, decreased foot traffic outside the store and, most notably, intermittent lack of basic utilities such as water.

Consequently, Food Co-op employees said their business has seen a significant drop in already minimal profits.

“”The construction is the toughest thing facing the co-op right now,”” Food Co-op accountant and Earl Warren College senior Matt Salerno said. “”Our net profits are 60 percent of what they were last year at this time.””

Will Parson/Guardian
Customers wait in line to make purchases at the Food Co-op. Construction around Student Center has led to reduced foot traffic to the area’s businesses.

The employees had expected construction to be finished by Feb. 22 – as promised by administrators – but no longer anticipate its completion in the near future.

According to interim University Centers Director Paul Terzino, the construction was delayed due to unexpected plumbing conditions and underground electrical wiring. He estimated that construction will be finished sometime in late April.

“”It’s not even close to being finished,”” Salerno said. “”Right now the date of completion is up in the air and it’s doing more harm than good.””

The absence of a kitchen has impacted the co-op’s ability to produce prepared foods. As a result, its temporary sale of exclusively vendor-provided food has made employees especially resentful of the construction.

“”We don’t have the means of producing the amount of food that we used to, so the food doesn’t look as good and it’s not as appealing to people,”” Food Co-op employee and Sixth College junior Rikki Cunningham said. “”Of course, we have a loss of revenue because we normally generate more money from the food that we make than from [that] of our vendors.””

The construction has also resulted in a sporadic interruption of water supply to the Food Co-op, forcing it to utilize the water source from its satellite location in Price Center.

“”We have to do dishes in our other location, so oftentimes we can’t offer dishes to our customers,”” Food Co-op employee and Thurgood Marshall College senior Ian Morrison said. “”Instead, we offer them disposable products that cost more money and produce more waste.””

Workers at the Food Co-op say the profit loss caused by affected water supply necessitates contractually mandated compensation from the university, but they have been unable to reach a compromise with administrators.

“”[UCSD administrators] try to work with us a little bit, but they look at us as a student organization,”” Cunningham said. “”They don’t look at us like we know what we’re doing. We do – we’ve read the space agreement and we have a lawyer.””

Section 7 of the Retail Cooperative Space Agreement requires rent relief if “”interruption in utility services”” occurs due to renovation. Terzino said the university provided 30 days notice of these interruptions, as mandated by the RCSA. Furthermore, despite the inability to access food production areas, Terzino maintained that the Food Co-op’s sales floor and offices have remained operational during renovation.

“”A rent reduction of 50 percent has been given to the Food Co-op while the production area is closed for renovation,”” Terzino said in an e-mail.

Salerno disputed the rent reduction, and said that the offer, which was made approximately a month after construction began, has not yet been accepted by the Food Co-op.

“”We talked to them about a variety of different offers concerning rent, and we, as a group, have not decided on the one that we will pursue,”” Salerno said.

Regardless of whether these offers are accepted by the Food Co-op, Terzino said that Section 7 of the RCSA only pertains to rent relief when utility interruption forces a store to close.

“”The intent of Section 7 of the space agreement concerning utility interruption is if utility interruption forces a co-op to close,”” Terzino said. “”The partial utility interruption at the Food Co-op did not force them to close.””

However, the text of Section 7 does not explicitly dictate that the university will provide rent relief only when a store is forced to close. It states that if utility interruption takes place over a period of four hours, the “”monthly rent … shall be reduced by one-thirtieth,”” and one additional thirtieth for each day the interruption persists.

Despite difficulties caused by lack of essential utilities, crucial details – specifically, those concerning the number of days that the Food Co-op has operated without utilities – have not yet been presented to the administration, Terzino said.

Although employees are upset by difficulties they associate with construction, their negotiations with administrators have not become truculent.

“”At the end of the day, the administration has been helpful and responsible in working with us,”” Morrison said. “”We’re not trying to be antagonistic with the university, but our goals and their goals in the way we operate sometimes conflict. We like to solve these conflicts as peacefully as possible.””

While the construction is potentially responsible for a significant impact on Food Co-op earnings, the slumping sales have also been affected by the recent opening of the store’s offshoot Price Center location. Apart from raising the prices of sold goods to offset lost revenue, workers reported forfeiting personal gains in an attempt to alleviate the store’s mounting debt.

“”We’re careful in writing down our hours – sometimes I’d rather volunteer the shift I’m supposed to be working than pay myself for the shift because we’re barely scraping by,”” Cunningham said. “”The co-op is our main priority at this point.””

Food Co-op employees described their organization as one of many that have been negatively affected by construction.

“”Every student organization in the old Student Center is experiencing these conflicts,”” Cunningham said. “”The General Store Co-op is losing money because of loss of foot traffic. The Bike Shop got moved.””

However, workers from other Student Center businesses have not reported the same extent of losses due to renovation.

“”There hasn’t been a big dip in terms of customers, although the outdoor seating area has less people because of the noise,”” Grove Caffe employee and John Muir College senior Jason Grishkoff said. “”We have the same customer base. Not many new people come along because not many people have heard about the Grove in the first place.””

While other stores may face impending losses, they have not described the same degree of fiscal decline as those suffered by the Food Co-op. Additionally, the student-run General Store Co-op is more hesitant in linking profit loss solely to construction difficulties.

“”I don’t think we are [losing profit] as of yet,”” General Store Co-op employee and Muir junior Lindsey Tan said. “”We wouldn’t be sure whether we were losing revenue because of the construction, because we just hired new people or because minimum wage just increased.””

Construction problems aside, student-run organizations agree that their overarching problem stems from a general lack of campus awareness. The Food Co-op asserted that, because construction physically complicates entrance to their store, the lack of interest or knowledge regarding student-run organizations within the student body is intensified.

“”One of the struggles is getting students involved – we exist to offer alternatives to students,”” Morrison said. “”[Collectives] foster interaction between people beyond buying and selling, beyond teacher and student – it’s an interaction gained when people are cooperating for a common cause.””