by Maria Teresa Roca De Togores, Policy Intern
On the campus of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), there is a little cabin called The Ché Café, but it is actually much more than a simple vegan café. Since its founding in 1980, it’s grown to become a landmark of San Diego’s music scene, helping launch the careers of countless bands and hosting an array of internationally known touring acts like Green Day, Pennywise, At the Drive-In, Album Leaf and Jimmy Eat World. But persistent battles with the college administration have put the venue in peril.
The Ché Café is a collectively-run all-ages venue and workers’ co-op. Its members participate in all sorts of social activism; its name refers to Ché Guevara but also “Cheap Healthy Eats”. Members. and especially the volunteers who run the Ché Café assure that the venue has become a safe space for students on a campus that doesn’t always feel welcoming. The Ché Café doesn’t serve alcohol and makes an effort to provide a healthy environment for its members. Rage Against The Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha has described it as “not only a great venue, but a source of inspiration and community building for any artist, student, or worker that has entered its doors.”
1000 Scholars Drive in La Jolla has been the Ché Café’s location for over thirty years, and for the venue very few things have changed. It’s walls are completely covered with paintings and murals expressing the musical and political ideas of past and present members.
But college administrators have a history of battling with the Ché Café over logistical and political matters. is currently under threat of being shut down. The Café’s building is old and shows signs of neglect and overdue maintenace. Last May the University Centers Advisory Board sent an eviction to The Ché Café informing them that the venue would be shut down for safety issues. The Ché Café subsequently filed suit against UCSD for breach of contract.
The volunteers who manage the Ché Café claim that the investment necessary to fix the safety concerns at the venue – such as installing a sprinkler system – is nothing compared to the money the university invests in the new Price Student Center. University investment comes from student tuition fees, and some argue that they cannot invest student money in a space that “only 2 percent of the students even use”. And The Ché Café’s problems don’t end there. The battle has led to delayed rent payments amounting to $4,000 and delayed insurance payments.
But the Ché Café and its supporters are not giving up. Its website, blog, and Facebook page are full of comments of support. Despite a restraining order from the University, the Café management have organized benefit concerts to gather support for their cause and keep the Ché as it is.
Yet the future doesn’t look very promising for the Ché Café. On October 21st a court ruled in favor of UCSD to terminate their lease to the Ché Café, citing “insufficient evidence that a formal request for dispute resolution had been made by the collective”. In the legal process the university had argued that The Ché Café had never sent a dispute resolution request to the Board of Administrators, and thus the university has no real obligation to work with the Collective.
The members and volunteers the Ché Café are upset, to say the least. All along, they have been seeking support and dialogue from the institution they depend on. They argue that the university misled them into thinking that requesting a dispute resolution was not necessary, and that it would not affect their lease terms. Now the court has ruled against the Ché Café upon these same reasons, and the Collective is demanding a “roll back of the eviction process” from the University.
Now, the future of the Ché Café seems uncertain. UCSD now has a legal green light to shut them down, but the Collective’s activist roots may have given them the necessary tools to hold on to their space. After the ruling, the Collective organized a rally and a march through campus to make students aware of their situation and get more support, and thus far have refused to vacate the space. Perhaps fearing the PR nightmare of civil disobedience, the college hasn’t yet carried out the eviction order. It’s yet to be seen if these acts of mobilization and activism will finally cause a positive outcome for the Ché Café.
What’s most frustrating about the entire situation is that the administration seems to consistently undervalue the unique role that co-operative, non-commercial community music spaces create, both for students and the broader music community. They seem unaware or uninterested in the Che’s role as a model for other venues on other campuses. As UCSD Sociology Professor Charles Thorpe has written, “the University administration should see the Che not as a problem, but as a resource for the campus that needs to be protected and encouraged…We want our students to think for themselves, but in order to do this they have to have an environment conducive to that. An environment filled with Starbucks, Subway, and Burger King doesn’t do that. The Che does.” For the sake of the music community and all of the bands that have played there, from the hardcore bands of the 80s to contemporary indie stalwarts like Dan Deacon and No Age, we hope the administration takes this advice to heart.