The Berkeley Student Food Collective, or BSFC, launched a petition to appeal the ASUC Student Union Board’s rejection of its proposal to move into the vacant Bear’s Lair Bar in Eshleman Hall.
Despite unanimous support from the ASUC Senate, the Student Union Board struck down the proposal in what BSFC staff member J Noven described as a closed-door vote by email without any publicly available information.
Instead, the Student Union Board voted to continue considering another proposal for the space not available to the public that, according to Noven, is an “upscale dining” experience similar to the previous occupants. The attendees of the closed-door session declined to comment on the issue.
“When students in 2008 were distressed about the lack of affordable groceries near campus, they wanted to provide a student-run grocery store on campus,” Noven said. “For 12 years now, students have successfully run an affordable grocery store that pays market-rate rent to the university out of a former nail salon.”
Noven noted that campus real estate originally referred BSFC to the nail salon on Bancroft Way as a trial run with the intention of eventually moving onto campus.
However, they said the current space is too small to operate as a real grocery store and does not provide room for backstock or the wide variety of grocery needs.
“There are so many different communities on campus — every imaginable type of culinary context,” Noven said. “To properly serve the whole student body, there needs to be a lot more space for the different types of food.”
Noven emphasized that EBT access on Southside is limited, yet access to government programs, including CalFresh, is the best way to ensure food security around campus. They said BSFC’s EBT incentives make them the cheapest store for CalFresh users.
Meanwhile, the previous upscale dining establishments have failed to succeed three consecutive times since 2015, according to Noven. They claimed such upscale restaurants do not cater to students.
“It’s not really profitable to have restaurants in that space, nor does it serve the campus community,” said BSFC education coordinator Emma Lowe. “The Food Collective has been profitable for years … in Bear’s Lair, we could generate revenue for the university.”
Since the vote was not final, Lowe said the petition’s goal is to convince the Student Union Board to reconsider its decision.
For Lowe, the number of petition signatories, which currently counts in the hundreds, demonstrates the proposal has wide community support.
“Students are most tuned to what issues they’re facing and how to address them,” Noven said. “The Student Food Collective is this rare example of students working for over a decade to provide for their own needs, and we hope that the Student Union Board will listen.”