We’re at Max Capacity, and Not Everyone Wants a Spot in Line

Picture 4Like everything else in this failed state economy, the Loft — that haven of commercialized alternativeness on the second floor of Price Center East — is broke. And, like others in need (cough, Parking and Transportation Services), the fledgling concert venue wants us to drag it out of the red by approving another student fee — this one through an Associated Students referendum that, if passed by a majority of the student body with at least 20 percent turnout, would charge undergrads $4.47 and grad students $3.82 per quarter to fund the nightclub-turned-cafe.

Though the Loft originally aimed to present its referendum to students next quarter, Wednesday night’s A.S. Council meeting shelved discussion on the matter until Week 3 of Winter Quarter. We believe the council was justified in putting off the decision until the referendum is rewritten.

It’s true that the Loft serves a unique purpose. Nowhere else on campus will you find a Latin American chocolate-tasting one night and an experimental string quartet playing the next. In its first year of business, the venue’s not only succeeded in drawing hour-long lines for popular acts like the band Why? with pay-as-you-can programming, it’s also given everyone something better to do on a Thursday night than get a head start on that Dostoevsky essay.

Yet there, in one of its greatest strengths, also lies the Loft’s inherent limitation: despite the diversity of the venue’s programming, it still appeals most to a thin slice of the student body. The average UCSD student isn’t interested in parting with his chemistry book or makeshift beer pong table on any night of the week — neither for the promise of a wine tasting nor of a memorable set from Metronomy. Even if he wanted to attend a show at the Loft, the space’s tiny 235-person maximum capacity may well prohibit his entry anyway. For as many free shows as the Loft gives us, there’s never any guarantee that a night begun at the back of the line will end in a dreamy post-show haze.

In Winter Quarter 2009, the Loft proposed a much smaller quarterly fee of $2.62 (which failed to rally enough A.S. Council support to get it on the ballot). But thanks to shrinking enrollment and insufficient registration-fee funding, Martin Wollesen, director of the university events office, decided to up that figure to $4.47. But increased need or not, the entire student body shouldn’t have to pay so much for a free perk that the select few Buddy Holly-lookalikes among us take advantage of. The Loft, after all, is a business — one that, with a regular contingent of non-student concertgoers, isn’t intended solely for our own weeknight amusement.

But as for the referendum itself, one of its most glaring issues, as it went before the council Wednesday night, was its lack of provisions for student oversight. The proposal, as drafted by the A.S. Special Committee to Review the Proposed University Centers Programming Fee, only required the University Centers Advisory Board and A.S. Council to give a yearly OK to how our fees are spent. All else would be out of student control.

A.S. President Utsav Gupta believes that kind of oversight is insufficient — and we agree. It’s not uncommon for university officials to misappropriate student activity fees for purposes other than what we the students want (see: treadmill-less RIMAC Annex).

To eliminate those surprise misuses, Gupta proposed a revised referendum Wednesday night which would grant students far more oversight. His plan would create a student-majority Loft governance board to keep an eye on how our fees are spent. It would also require the council to approve the Loft’s operating budget with a two-thirds majority vote each year — both of which, we believe, would adequately address the oversight issue.

Gupta’s plan doesn’t stop there. It also demands that half of the Loft’s events (rather than the current 20 percent) be set aside for student org events, with special weekly priority for A.S. Concerts and Events shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

But as much as we love empowerment, a fee-supported Loft that’s forced to bend over backward for student orgs would ultimately suffer. A new programming philosophy that prioritizes college-sponsored root-beer pong over Jens Lekman concerts would ruin the reason we like the Loft so much now — the programming is actually good.

There’s a reason professionals curate the Loft: because they know, better than any mighty A.S. appointee, how to organize a compelling lineup of events. At the end of the day, it’s not our job as students to replace those professionals — we just have to ensure they don’t pull a disappearing act with our fees.