Live Blogging the Panda Express Senate Meeting

I decided to live blog the Panda Express senate meeting (for background info, go here, here, or here) on a whim; I’m a fast typer and have live blogged before and was going to the meeting anyways, so thought I might as well make myself useful. But I learned so much through the process that I decided to edit my original transcript so that, hopefully, Berkeley students and others interested in knowing more about this particular debate (and the ASUC in general) can get something out of my entry.

I’m personally anti-Panda because, while I love cheap chow mein and egg rolls as much as the next person, I don’t want my school — one of the most renowned public universities in the world — selling me environmentally unsustainable, unhealthy food when there are alternative solutions. That’s what I learned at this meeting - there really are alternative solutions! Before tonight, I assumed that Panda Express was going to offer student groups a ton of money, money that I know they desperately need. I assumed, as I think many Berkeley students do, that barring Panda Express from campus would hurt the the ASUC and especially hurt ASUC funding for student groups. I thought that maybe Panda Express was a necessary evil, especially during this recession. But after hearing both sides argue their cases I realized that the relatively trifling amount of revenue Panda Express would bring to student groups is simply not worth it, and that there is no real reason to rush into a contract with a corporation that goes against so many of the things for which Berkeley is supposed to stand. The ASUC auxiliary will probably only get around $45,000 out of this whole thing; if Panda Express makes one million dollars in revenue, the ASUC will still only make about $100,000. None of this money directly translates into funding for student groups.

But, enough of what I think. Here’s the edited transcript. I bolded some of the more long-winded speakers’ basic points. Read until the end, it gets juicy (Especially when ASUC senator Eddie Nahabet showed a video that showcased my friend and roommate Ray Hobbs without his knowledge and more or less insinuated he was pro-Panda Express, which he is definitely not. I texted Ray and he was there in less than ten minutes, along with other student group leaders angry about being involved in the video…). P.S. I apologize for any name misspellings/other typos, but you try typing for three hours straight.

6:15 Just got here. One of the senators is eating Chipotle. I wonder where his loyalties lie.

6:20 Jeff Deutch is giving us some history about the ASUC student union. Basically, it used to be vacant. No business whatsoever on upper sproul until four years ago. Men’s clothing = $$$. Keeps repeating the phrase, “Cal Community,” and says regardless of the decision made tonight the spot cannot be vacant, must be vibrant. Thriving businesses make other businesses thrive. 

6:25: Andy is finishing his first year at UC Berkeley. He says we have awesome student groups. Unfortunately, they require cash. Like Jeff (and every “non anti-Panda Express” person that spoke), makes psuedo-neutral claims about “not knowing what the best decision is” but says he does know that we need to make money to make “UC Berkeley the wonderful place that it is.”

6:27 Ali is talking about implementing a student run food co-op. snaps! She says they’ve already won thousands of dollars in grants. snaps! UC Davis, Cheeseboard, more “insane amounts of support not just in Berkeley and in the co-op system” want to help us run a co-op. Let’s revitalize lower sproul. snaps!

6:30 Ryan. She wants revenue. She moves her hands a lot. Some people would be thrilled by Panda Express but they’re too scared to say it. We need to make money. There isn’t a huge growth potential for “just what students are bringing in” (hmm?) Okay, it’s actually painful to listen to her talk because she says um so much.

6:31 Nick isn’t here to make a specific stand on the issue. He doesn’t care what happens with this whole Panda Express thing, for reals. He just realllly wants the board to consider the revenue of any type of business that goes into lower sproul. O RLY?

6:32 Yonatan is shocked that we are still talking about Panda Express. It shouldn’t be a political decision. Look at the FACTS. We’ve been presented with a survey that says 2/3 of students want to keep large chains off campus, with documents saying the majority of us think food policy should be guiding our actions on campus (snaps galore), that there are other alternatives that are perhaps being hidden/underplayed. There are other businesses interested besides Panda Express. LETS BE CLEAR: no student funding is going to be cut if Panda Express doesn’t come in. That’s why this is a bad decision. We’re not gonna make a lot of money. He asks Nadesan Permaul how much money we would get If Panda Express makes $100,000 dollars. Nad says, “you’re talking, I won’t respond.” 

Yonatan says Panda Express would be paying 1/5 the rent they would on Telegraph or Shattuck. Look at Cal Dining, the things they are doing far surpass Panda Express’ promises. They haven’t responded to our concerns at all, only done cheapest most convenient things to address the most basic of our concerns, they say they’ll source locally because they get everything from CA already, they won’t sell transfats because transfats are gonna be illegal soon, they will offer veggie dishes because they’d have to in order to make $$$ here in the Bay Area. They only pay 50 cents over minimum wage. they say they don’t have MSG but that’s a lieeee. What is best for our campus? What do students care about? What draws them to Berkeley? These questions are more important than a little bit more ASUC money.

6:45 Yonatan wants to share some info re: an organic chicken sandwich they would sell at the student-run food co-op, “if it were spring, which it is: 4.50 dollar chicken spinach with baby spinach, marinated onions, feta cheese, garlic lemon juice, balsamic.” Mmm snaps.

6:46 Megan, VP external affairs of berkeley student co-op. In 1930’s (tough times like these) berkeley student co-op joined together .. ahh I stopped listening it is really hot in here sry guys.

6:46 Some guy likes Panda Express a lot. It’s a good idea. It’ll be open late, and students will be down.

6:48 Some girl says, we already have fast food and corporate presence in Berkeley, but that hasn’t changed the fact that we still attract wonderful and incredible people. Chipotle has lines out the door, so if we have a corporate fast food chain on campus we will get money too. She’s getting really riled up about how —

6:52 I HATE TUMBLR I have spent SO MUCH TIME live blogging this meeting even though my computer is really hot on my lap and it just got deletedddd ugh the perils of new media. But now I just got it back but I have no idea what the girl is talking about anymore, it has to do with how fighting against Panda Express is fighting against what other people want though.

6:54 Andrea says we all <3 Panda express but we are leaders and it isn’t what we stand for. She quotes Alice Waters, which IMO is a baaad idea since Alice Waters kind of lives in her own insane slow food hearth cooking world.

6:58 Janet Frishberg (Thanks for emailing me, Janet’s mom!), who is kind of my new hero, said so much that I decided to put her opinions into bullet points:

  • There are other franchises that are/have been on campus, such as Naia and STA, but none have provoked as much outrage from the students as Panda Express. These students have legit social, enviromental, and health concerns. 
  • The ASUC’s mission statement states they strive to “extend student learning beyond the classroom.” Why, then, are we ignoring what our professors are saying, what our fellow students are saying? Voting Panda Express in is an approval of the flawed and questional road that got us here. Ugh she said so many more smart pertinent things but I was fixing my internet, I’m back now though heyy. 
  • One argument is that students are adults and should be able to choose Panda Express if they so desire. But, choice implies students have unlimited resources, aka TIME, as everyone knows UC Berkeley students have no time and most students, with only 10 minutes to spare, will buy whatever they can that is fast and accessible.
  • UC Berkeley is a public university, created for the public good, not as a capital object. Students are trying to be a part of the democratic process, saying they want chain restaurants off campus, don’t want to have to choose every day to avoid Panda Express.
  • A survey done a few years ago coordinated by Jordan Smith (Jordan says, no actually it wasn’t, Janet apologizes, she means just presented by him) showed that students want Panda Express on campus. Janet says she thinks he really wants to know what students want, but a survey done just a few months ago found the opposite information: 2/3 of students don’t want Panda Express. 
  • We’re not anti-chain. Naia is a chain. Arizmendi is a chain, and they have a ton of different co-ops. It’s a question of what chain, where? If Panda Express was a successful chain that met all the student’s requirements, that would be awesome, we’re just trying to help the board make decisions based on more than 47,000 dollars in rent. We’re obviously down with money.
  • Will we lose students by allowing Panda Express on campus? Do you want to change the base of our campus and student body with this contract? Have you heard heard of greenwashing? It’s when companies pretend to be environmentally friendly even though they’re not. This is what Panda Express is doing. Fakers!
  • Janet says she was touched by the auxiliary workers saying that they were scared they’d lose their jobs if there wasn’t more $$$. Janet, cause she’s awesome, went and interviewed those workers and they told her to look closely at the budget, basically it’s fucked according to what is posted online (and the auxiliary office wouldn’t give her anymore info). She’s not trying to tell anyone how to spend their money but wants to know if this problem can be helped in other ways since it’s clearly an important one for students (who may vote for Panda to solve it) and workers alike. The Auxiliary is spending 2/3 of the student gov. budget, and there’s been no dialogue on how our entire budget could possibly be restructured so that we could actually solve these problems instead of coming up with a quick solution that might not even bring in that much money. 
  • Will Panda Express be so popular that they’ll make a mil in revenue and the board will make 100,000, enough to break even? Look at Follet. FAIL. students don’t feel loyal to student store, if they think Ned’s is better they will go across the street. Take Coca Cola. another fail. Water is more of a top seller, even in vending machines.. when you gamble at making revenue at the expense of student health = fail.
  • Concern for lack of vision on board. Go out for an RFP. Use reserves, we understand RFPs take time and we want to see you financially solvent but then for six months design an RFP, seek real student imput, make sure there’s competition worth putting a service in lower sproul, when you started your budget was balanced, now it is not, vote down this contract and end negotiations with Panda, draw up a vision for the empty spaces and move to do an RFP based on this vision for all of your empty storefronts. Secure the Berkeley co-op, dont fill it with services your students don’t want or stores like Naia that no one goes to. A vote on Panda is not a vote on legitimacy! Okay thank god she is done talking I need to breathe.

7:26 Matt Marks: we have three businesses on campus that are able to make rent, they don’t need assistance from Panda Express, look at what we have, look at what’s worked, let’s get into a dialogue with them instead of reaching for the first person that wants a contract. He’s not here to talk about Panda Express, we voted unamiously to end negotiations so why are we still talking about it? Let’s talk about how costs for students are currently low priority. There are innovative ways to increase revenue, like more catering contracts, let’s acknowledge the need for revenue, that we want to green up the area with completely biodegradable or rewashable serving ware, there are ways to do this but the problem is we are too busy talking about Panda Express for two years on a gamble that may not do anything for us that we’ve forgotten about what’s working. Let’s prioritize. Panda Express has gotten too many closed session meetings to convince you guys that they’re the golden ticket. Have you ever been invited to these meetings? Nope! Matt thinks this is ridiculous, not just as an activist but economically. He could care less about Panda Express, our priorities need to be realigned here, make the correct decision, engage w/ the student co-op (which feels powerful, rightly so, since they represent the needs of students), we’re done with this. Matt smokes tobacco and loves it but he would not want to see it in his student union. There’s a balance between revenue and student concerns.

7:33 Guy w/ hat is repeating a lot of stuff other people have said so I am going to relax for a second. Panda Express = def not a small business, they have 1200 restaurants. You know, I always thought I would make a great court transcriber because I can type really quickly but I’m starting to think it might not be the career path for me. I feel like I just ran a marathon. Chief of Board (blonde woman?) says she is “always on the side of students.” I’m hungry. I’d be lying if I said Panda Express didn’t sound really good right now (but not purchased from campus!). We don’t know that Panda Express will actually be sucessful, Naia thought they would be but obviously that didn’t work out very well.

7:43 Eddie Nahabet is setting up a video he wants us to watch. I am scared. He says there is a disconnect between the operations board and ASUC. In this movie he wants to impart this to us. The fullest he’s seen this room is during finance meetings, not student operations board meetings. the lights are going out…anddd it’s not working so now ASUC pres Roxanne Winston is speaking. She says board members don’t want to see these negotiations continue on into infinity. She wants us to remember that. Also she wants to stress that no one is against ASUC financial solvency but to double standards. What do we have to do to express that Panda Express is not welcome? What are we losing? What attracts people to us, what makes us one of the best universities in the country? What does it mean for us to bring in a food chain? Students are not being given alternatives, that is what this food co-op is. The board wasn’t able to find an alternative, students came up with one themselves. We don’t need to look like UCLA or Irvine, we stand so well on our own. “I would not want to come here bc it’s UCLA, I came here because it’s Berkeley.” SNAPS. 

7:45 some woman pops her head in and says she’s down with Panda Express on campus. We should try something new! Practically everyone is like, WTF? Okay movie is starting.

7:56 WOW. So there’s a montage of Daily Cal articles about lack of funds for student groups set to what sounds like an elevator music rendition of “Mad World,” but the cover that from Donnie Darko. Cut to MY ROOMMATE RAY HOBBS WTF??? Ray what are you doing in this movie? He’s talking about student funds. They are using a lot of clips of him talking about CLAM, interspersed with clips of other people who are not my friends asking for money from the ASUC. I just texted Ray and he’s coming to protestttt lolololol

8:02  5 minute recess.

8:12 Voting on whether to allow for more public comment (so incensed student group leaders like Ray can talk!). Wins.

8:13 Eddie says he doesnt care about the decision we’re making today and isn’t in favor of Panda Express neccesarily but simply wants to portray how student group funding is cut and wants us all to know this. He sounds pissed and defensive as fuck, he simply came up here and presented facts that are important for the board to know. He is repeating himself.

8:14 Matt Senate and Laura Fettig are speaking as co-editors of ASUC student group The Gutenberg. Basically call bullshit on Eddie, say that obviously he is drawing a false correlation that Panda Express will offset student costs. “Maybe you didn’t intend that, but it doesn’t matter.”

8:17 Former chair for a sorority who recieved funding for ASUC says she would not compromise character of her campus, her group wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the character of our campus. Panda Express is not the solution.

8:18 Chaz got food poisioning from Panda Express, spent a week in pain. He hasn’t gotten sick once since he stopped eating Panda Express.

8:19 Relay for Life woman, who was also shown in the Video, doesn’t support Panda Express. Points out that not eating healthy leads to cancer, which Relay for Life strives to prevent.

8:20 Ray is talking, says he is not in favor for Panda Express nor is CLAM, says he is a vegetarian and that many of his friends are, he wants to go on the record saying he is not in support of Panda Express. There was a mistake in the tabling, that’s why Ray had asked for so much money from the ASUC and why he was so grave. There are healthy/environmentally friendly restaurants that can go in Sproul, not Panda Express

8:22 Student from Bridges also, like Ray, recieved a text message saying she was being used in the video, she feels misrepresented, Bridges does not support Panda Express.

8:23 Soo basically every group shown in the video does not support Panda Express and feels uncomfortable being exploited this way, this other girl is pissed that she wasn’t told why she was being recorded, she doesn’t think people are listening to her CLEARLY. snaps. this is getting fun!

8:24 Zander is part of a student group that did not experience intense cuts but he says he is being told he is at risk next year if Panda Express doesn’t come to campus. He says that isn’t true. Eddie is shaking his head. He says it is like choosing between the right to marry and a family? Don’t pit people against each other! Senators, you had the chance to fund so many of those groups, especially the multi cultural groups, from taking cuts from other areas that weren’t even given a slight review - he is getting riled up - says this is disgusting, panda express does not help student groups, IT IS A FALLACY.

8:25 Eddie says he is personally offended. He says he said he was filming a movie about how lack of funds for student groups and that he will continue to show people his movie, senators need to know about cuts, you guys deserve the right to know that student groups are being cut. IMO, he is being kind of innapropriate/making this about himself. ALSO: no one is disagreeing with him, just saying that the amount of revenue Panda Express is offering isn’t worth the negatives and we should explore other options… 

8:30 Janet is handing out oranges “from California” to senate/board members. HA. 

The end.. for now.

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