Although some UC Berkeley students have linked the recent acts of vandalism on a Telegraph Avenue Subway store to discontent over lease negotiations at the Bear’s Lair Food Court on campus, Berkeley police said Tuesday that the intent of the vandals was still under investigation.
The Daily Planet reported Feb. 18 that two independent vendors at the food court, Healthy Heavenly Foods and Taqueria El Tacontento, had lost out to a Subway franchisee and Saigon Eats, a Vietnamese restaurant.
UC Berkeley students supporting the owners of Heavenly Foods and Taqueria El Tacontento criticized the university’s decision to lease the space to Subway, saying that it was a step toward privatizing the student union center.
They pointed out that there was a Subway restaurant right across the street from the Bear’s Lair—the one that was targeted in the early morning of Feb. 26, when students marched out of campus to protest budget cuts and clashed with police, damaging public as well as private property.
UC Berkeley anthropology graduate student Callie Maidhof, who witnessed the riot, told the Planet that one of the reasons Subway was targeted was because of the Bear’s Lair situation.
“One of the four demands of last November’s occupation of Wheeler Hall was that these small immigrant businesses be allowed to stay on,” Maidhof said. “Although there was no statement from the protesters, the connection with Subway is very clear.”
When a group of people occupying Wheeler Hall last fall protested fee hikes, layoffs and cuts to public education, they also asked the university to give the two Bear’s Lair vendors a chance to stay on.
Maidhof, who didn’t see the vandalism at the restaurant, said she believed the “whole thing had been very spontaneous.”
“It was the act of individuals and I have no idea who,” she said. “I do believe that the way the whole thing has been spun—that certain protesters and ‘bad’ and certain protesters are ‘good,’—can be divisive for the movement when we are all working toward a common cause.”
Five dumpsters were also set on fire in the Telegraph area.
“There was little damage to city property,” said City Manager Phil Kamlarz Tuesday. “Trash can set on fire, et cetera. No value has been determined yet. There was a cost for added police overtime. I don’t have that amount yet.”
Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Andrew Frankel said that the only private property damaged was the Subway restaurant, whose windows were smashed.
Frankel said the incident was still under investigation.
Rigo Alonso, manager at the Telegraph Subway, confirmed that Subway intends to build a second sandwich shop in the student union building. Alonso estimated that the cost of damages to his shop as “approaching $2,000.”
Nish Rajan, chair of the Store Operations Board of the student union’s administrative wing—which is handling Subway’s food court contract—said he is “completely unaware of any link between the attack on the Telegraph Subway and the current lease negotiations.”
“I really don’t have much to say about the attack on Subway but to add my voice to the chorus that condemns such attacks and promotes peaceful protests.” Rajan said.
Student union senator Christina Oatfield, who has helped the food court vendors with their lease negotiations, condemned the attack on Subway.
“I do not know who carried out the vandalism so I cannot speak to their motives,” Oatfield said. “I do not think property destruction is generally an effective means of protest.”
Ann Vu, who owns Heavenly Foods, said she was shocked to learn about the Subway incident.
“I have decided to hire a lawyer to protect my rights,” she said.
Raymond Barglow contributed reporting to this story.