The Daily Californian and the student government board that holds its lease have set a last-ditch meeting Tuesday to decide if the independent paper will remain on campus.
The paper’s board of directors signed a non-binding letter of intent Friday to move from its current home at student government-owned Eshleman Hall to a site across the street at 2460A Bancroft Way, the former home of Ned’s Clothing Store.
The move would cost the student government about $72,000 in annual rent and end a seventeen-month dispute. This summer newly elected student government officials pushed to include clauses in the paper’s lease compelling it to develop a code of ethics and hire an independent editor to address concerns of minority students.
Those on the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) Store Operations Board advocating the lease provisions say they are necessary to force the paper to address years of complaints. Minority groups charge that the paper’s editors are insulated from their concerns and that, as a result, coverage is skewed against them.
The paper, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, called the provisions a violation of free speech and threatened to sue the student government.
While both sides say they prefer a compromise, they admit that severing their landlord-tenant relationship—unique for a college paper and student government—might be best for both sides.
“There is a fundamental conflict of influence,” said Daily Californian Editor in Chief Eric Schewe. “That we have to consider the impact of the stories on who we are writing about creates a chilling effect.”
From a financial standpoint, the move to Bancroft and Telegraph seems like a no-brainer. The owner has offered a four-year deal, with an option for six more years on a 4,300-square-foot-office for about $60,000 per year. The paper has until Oct. 6 to sign the lease.
“The ASUC has quite a deal to live up to compared to what we’ve been offered at this space,” Schewe said, noting that the paper pays the student government $72,000 a year for 4,100 square feet in Eshleman Hall.
But the paper’s board of directors is hesitant to move the paper off campus again, Schewe said, and remains inclined to keep negotiating with the student government.
Many of the paper’s board are alumni who remember the paper’s travails when it first left campus in 1971 and did not return until 1994.
During those years the paper was subject to the fluctuations of Berkeley’s real estate market, and the paper failed to make rent payments on several occasions.
Schewe said that although commercial real estate prices are down now, several board members prefer to remain on campus where rent prices are more stable.
Taina Gomez, ASUC Executive Vice President and member of the 11-member Store Operations Board, said she would like to see the paper stay on campus, but that parting ways might be best for both sides.
“This has been a contentious issue for both sides,” she said. “They want to make sure they are independent, but at the same time we are in an awkward position because as representatives of the students we felt we needed to make the paper accountable and address the problems students complained about.”
The paper’s departure would free up office space for other campus groups, she said, and give the board more time to focus on other income producers, including the student government-owned clothing and book stores.
Gomez said the popularly elected ASUC Senate has pressured the Store Operations Board to strike a deal, so not to lose the rental revenue paid by the paper.
“It would definitely be a big hit for our budget,” Gomez said. Earlier this semester, the ASUC cut 0.7 percent from student groups after they found a typo in their budget that cost them $10,000.
ASUC political infighting has hamstrung efforts to reach a compromise.
The Store Operations Board—comprised of six students and five faculty and administrators—refused to consider the lease at their regularly scheduled September meeting after two graduate students were booted from the council because they had not been confirmed by the ASUC Senate.
The students, Graduate Assembly President Jessica Quindel and Graduate Assembly Vice President Cintya Molina, were expected to win Senate confirmation last week, but in a move several board members said was politically motivated, the Senate rejected Quindel, who has a long affiliation with left-of-center student party CalServe. CalServe holds only five of the Senate’s 20 seats but controls the top ASUC executive positions.
Molina is now expected to withdraw from the board in protest, leaving members to wonder whether or not to consider the issue as long as the graduate students are excluded.
“The meeting has been called. Where we go from there I don’t know,” said Store Operations Board member and professor Pete Bucklin.
The paper, which rents its space month-to-month, said the move off-campus would likely occur during the December break. Board members said they would not force the paper to leave immediately to make room for other student groups.
“We have no desire to kick them out in a vindictive way,” said Molina. “We will give them ample time to move out.”
Schewe said the paper probably won’t file suit against the ASUC on free speech grounds, as it had threatened earlier this month. Instead, he said, the paper is focused on moving past the lease negotiations.