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Farewell to the Che Cafe

The Che Cafe hit the chopping block Friday -- where a student-led vote decided its fate

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A University of California San Diego student-led advisory board (UCAB) voted Friday afternoon to redact the Che Cafe, the university's iconic all-ages club, from its 2014-2015 budget. According to UCAB Chair, Samuel Chang, "The vote was 9-4, with no abstentions." 

    When asked when the Che Cafe would have to officially close its doors, Che Cafe representatives said it would most likely be shut down in September.
    In a surprising turn of events, the scheduled two-hour public meeting was moved to an "executive session" -- which is closed to the public. When the board members eventually emerged from the room, most hurried out without comment.
    But Justin Dewaele, one of the first board members out of the meeting after the vote, and visibly distressed, seemed stunned by the verdict. When pressed for details on what went on in the meeting behind closed doors, he said, "I can't talk about the details. I guess I can lose my [board] position if I say anything further about what happened. I can tell you that I'm kind of speechless at the moment. It's been really intense. The committee was just manipulated by people who do not want the Che Cafe to be at the university anymore."
    The UCAB held a meeting at UCSD to vote on cutting the Che Cafe from its budget. Friday's meeting was fraught with drama almost immediately, as advisory board member Jeremy Snyder attempted to prevent public input altogether, "I motion to limit the public input to zero minutes."
    The motion failed but another was immediately proposed instead to limit public input to only current UCSD students or alumni -- for a time period of 20 minutes. It was passed and students, one after another, stood up to speak out in the Che Cafe's defense.
    Some students gave testimonials of the iconic club's impact on their lives, and how it directly influenced their individual reasons for even attending UCSD in the first place. Others pointed out "frivolous spending" in other areas of the university, that should be cut instead. One student referred to the UCAB's massive financial reserves that they could tap into, in order to save the Che.
    After the public had exhausted their 20 minutes of input, Snyder proposed another motion to change the meeting to an "executive session." According to Snyder, the UCAB charter approves closed meetings if the discussions involve "personnel, school investments or legal issues." He said, "This meeting involves all three." 
    The board voted to approve his motion and the session was closed. Anyone who was not on the UCAB (including roughly 30-40 Che Cafe supporters) was ushered outside onto the fourth story veranda, while the advisory board debated inside.
    After the meeting was closed to the public, the Che Cafe supporters rallied together outside the room.While waiting, Che supporters discussed ways to strengthen their stance. They took turns speaking, and eventually decided to leave and protest in front of the office of UCAB's Director, Sharon Van Bruggen. 
    The Che Cafe has seemingly always been a hot-button issue at UCSD, and has faced an existential crisis before -- most recently in 2012. The club had fallen behind on insurance payments, and in order to stay open, had to raise $12,000 immediately, a story covered by San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
    The building has fallen into disrepair over the years. Extensive repairs were ordered by campus fire marshals in the wake of assessments by ISES Corporation, a consulting service which identifies and quantifies facility maintenance needs.
    Now that the UCAB has voted to cut the Che Cafe from its maintenance budget, it could put an end to the club's existence entirely, according to critics of the vote.
    "The thing is, they’ve known about a lot of the repairs, and they keep pushing them out of their budget," Che Cafe core member Rene Vera said. "In our ‘Master Space Agreement’ with the school, it states that they’re responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of the building -- but they’ve kept deferring things to the point where it’s become inoperable."
    While the Che has been around for 34 years, the building housing it is much older.
    "The building is over 70 years old," UCSD Public Information Representative Christine Clark told us. "According to ISES Corporation, which grades buildings with .1 being the best score to a .6, which would require a complete demolition, the Che scored a .52. Overall, $722,471 worth of maintenance would have to be done to the building to bring it up to code, using the ISES report as a guideline. A closure of facility would result in $854,212 savings in their 2014-15 fiscal year budget. The board has discussed options for the Che to continue their programming elsewhere on the university, though. They would have special access and booking rights to the Loft and the Stage Room, for example. These are just discussions at this point, but the students are proposing alternatives."
    Moving the Che's shows to other venues, however, may not be an option financially.
    "[The UCAB] has given us a ‘Relocation Draft,’ which says we’ll need to vacate the building and operate out of an office on the campus, with any live shows hosted by other bars on the campus,' Vera said. "We’d go from volunteer workers -- who handle all of the live sound, booking, cooking and door duties – to booking agents. That’s it. We’d have to hire outside security to work the events and outside sound engineers to run the shows. As a nonprofit collective, we'd never be able to sustain those costs. Obviously, the way we operate is much different. And even though they say the relocation would be temporary, they’ve given us absolutely no timeline as to when we could come back. The vote is only for this year's budget, yes. But there's no guarantee we will even be in next year's budget."
    It comes as no surprise that the San Diego music community is upset about another possible venue closure, having lost the Griffin, 4th&B, Anthology and Brick By Brick in recent memory. Pinback frontman Rob Crow joined the discussion on Twitter Sunday night: "My life would have been f---ed without [the Che Cafe]."
    The Nformals frontman Joshua Kmak, echoed Crow's sentiments: "I love the Che because of how raw and real it is, as opposed to a bar where there's a sound guy tapping his foot and looking at his watch. The Che has nothing but friends. It's where I've seen the most expression in a venue.… It's a place where you don't even need a band to get in a lineup. If you have something to say in a creative way, the Che will take you in." 
    It looks like all that is about to change.

    Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.