Store Operations Board to Consider Food Court Vendors' Lease Extensions

Nathan Yan/Staff

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Three campus vendors in Lower Sproul Plaza will likely face further delays in obtaining lease extensions following tonight's ASUC Store Operations Board meeting.

The board will meet at 5 p.m. tonight to consider the extensions but not to implement them. Board members will also discuss how to tackle the ASUC Auxiliary's financial deficit, which has already led to three layoffs within the auxiliary.

Once new lease terms have been determined, owners of The Coffee Spot, Taqueria El Tacontento and Healthy Heavenly Foods will be given a chance to review them.

Should any of the vendors reject the terms, the board would move to open the space to a public bidding process. The April 14 vote to grant the businesses this "first right of refusal"

reversed a previous decision to immediately begin bidding on the spaces in the Bear's Lair Food Court.

The last long-term lease offered to any of the vendors was in November 2004 when the board voted to offer the owners of Healthy Heavenly Foods and Taqueria El Tacontento two-year lease extensions, according to meeting minutes. Since then, all three of the businesses have operated on month-to-month extensions.

The vendors, who could not be reached for comment Monday, have expressed outrage in the past few months, saying delays in offering new leases are unfair.

But board members said more time and information from past members and campus officials is needed to determine suitable increases in rent.

"We got together last week to talk about terms (but) we just don't have enough information to justify any decision," said Will Smelko, ASUC President and a board member. "No one is happy with the fact that it isn't figured out."

Smelko, who became a board member Monday when he assumed the ASUC presidency, added that the board has benefitted from a smooth transition in the past month. He said cooperation among past and future members will aid the board in deciding lingering issues such as the vendors' leases.

"I feel a lot has been learned and has been carried over," he said. "I'm really excited because I think we're going to be a lot more professional."

Supporters of the vendors have expressed concern about the delays, saying negotiations with Panda Express did not face such obstacles.

"The Panda deal had more professional, full-time attention devoted to it than the Bear's Lair Food Court vendors," said Christina Oatfield, an ASUC senator and ex-officio board member. "If the student members of the SOB and the Bear's Lair Food Court vendors had more professional assistance and more time, we would have seen draft contracts by now."

Nish Rajan, graduate assembly budget officer and a member of the board, said the end of the spring semester also hampered progress on determining appropriate lease terms.

"We are constrained by schoolwork and access to the relevant information. Resolving these issues takes time," he said in an e-mail. "We are attempting to do what would have been done in (a bidding process)."

At the meeting, the board will also discuss a decision from UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to divert funds from campus departments-including about $100,000 from the auxiliary-in order to help alleviate the campus' own financial difficulties.

"We'll put together a really solid argument whether its a letter or whatever," Smelko said.


Zach E.J. Williams covers student government. Contact him at [email protected]

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