San Diego superior court judge Katherine Bacal ruled in favor of UC San Diego on Tuesday during an eviction hearing involving the Che Cafe.
Bacal said the university met its burden of proof that it owned the property and that the eviction notice sent to the iconic music venue had been sufficient. The judge also said a written statement of the ruling will need to be provided to the Che Cafe.
Asked for a comment after court on Monday, the collective’s lawyer, Bryan Pease, said Bacal would issue a written notice of the decision to be delivered to the collective, after which the Che would have five days to vacate. Pease also said he thought it was likely the university would write that notice on Tuesday and that Bacal could sign it later in the day. It's possible, Pease theorized, that the Che could be out of the site as early as next week.
Last Thursday, Bacal heard closing arguments in the case. The Che Cafe was served with the notice in June after allegedly losing its co-op status in a Graduate Student Association (GSA) vote. The university terminated its month-to-month lease and gave the collective 30 days to vacate, which it failed to do.
Pease told the court Thursday that the Che is challenging the GSA’s vote to decertify the co-op, arguing that the governing master space agreement does not give them the authority to do so. He argued that, while the GSA can vote to certify, no authority to decertify had been granted to the body.
Representatives from the co-op previously stated they believed they were in an extended holdover period after their term-specific lease expired in 2008, and had occupied the space on a month-to-month basis while lease negotiations took place.
Pease told Bacal that the decertification vote was believed to be a way for the university to bypass dispute resolution and a chancellor’s review, which is why the collective proceeded to file a lawsuit.
“At the end of the day, this is a student organization paid for by student fees, and it’s the student governments who should administer it,” Pease said.
On Tuesday, Bacal said that while dispute resolution is not required, it is an option that must be exercised in order for it to be enforced. She said the Che had the burden of proving that it sought dispute resolution, but there was no evidence that it had tried to obtain it, so the university was allowed to move forward with the eviction proceedings without dispute resolution.
After adjournment for the day on Thursday, Pease addressed the issue of why the Che, despite being certified by the Associated Students and GSA, had not pursued an extension of its lease when it expired in 2008.
“They’re students, and they’re not as sophisticated as a savvy administration that was misleading them and providing contradictory information … and also, there are different entities within the master space agreement, which were the Associated Students and the Graduate Students Association that are separate from the collective, so under the lease, it was actually those student governments that were supposed to initiate this process, or at least it was unclear who was supposed to initiate or how you were supposed to initiate it.”
The university’s legal team, led by Daniel Park, argued that the collective made no effort to obtain its certification or initiate dispute resolution during the allotted 10-day period after the decertification vote. Furthermore, he said the university was acting in its rights as a landlord with a tenant who had a month-to-month lease and that, in fact, no reason was required by law to evict the Che, but that, since the university is a center of reason, the university invoked the decertification vote as the reason. While he acknowledged that the Associated Students body had voted to certify the Che, he maintained that the collective required certification by both student organizations to be on campus.
Bacal ruled on Tuesday that the certification/decertification issues were irrelevant to the decision. The Che had filed a legal challenge to the GSA’s resolution, but, with Bacal presiding over those proceedings as well, it's not clear that they will take place at all. The Che’s suit alleges that the university "colluded" with members of the GSA to decertify the collective, alleging that students were not given a reasonable opportunity to participate in decisions involving the survival of the venue.
One interesting development in court on Thursday, which was mostly a discussion brimming with legalese, Park and the university calculated the Che’s back rent owed -- roughly $2.80 a day, for a total of $263.20 up to and including Thursday.
“Yeah, that was pretty funny,” Pease said, laughing. “They probably paid their lawyers over 50 grand … they’ve gone through two law firms on this case, and they’ve got campus counsel representing them as well.”
Asked for comments after the court recessed on Thursday, Park deferred questions to UCSD’s executive director of marketing, media relations and public affairs, Jeff Gattas, who was not immediately available for comment. On Tuesday, Gattas released a statement for the university that said "The university appreciates the court's decision today. We are hopeful that we will have a smooth transition as we move forward. The university is committed to supporting UC San Diego’s student organizations and providing a broad range of cultural and artistic events and activities on our campus."
This is not the first time the Che faced extinction, according to Pease, who said he believed the cafe faced an unlawful detainer suit in the 1990s, according to Pease, and was saved by student action. On Monday, a collective member said Tuesday's ruling was not the end of the road for the Che and that the collective will continue to push to be part of the campus. For his part, Pease says he's going over his options with his client.
"If they are physically removed from the space, they can still ask to be let in," Pease said Tuesday. "This is the same kind of thing that happened in the '90s -- this isn’t necessarily something new."
Over the years, the nonprofit collective has booked shows at the tiny venue with such high-profile acts as Nirvana, Jimmy Eat World, Billy Corgan, Bon Iver, Bright Eyes and Green Day -- before those acts had broken, of course. But the site of thousands of all-ages punk, metal, indie-rock and hip-hop shows (among other social events) has seemingly always been a hot-button issue at UCSD and has faced existential crises before -- most recently in 2012, when the club fell 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.