ASI board attempts to slow Panda Express deal

Associated Students Inc. moved to pump the brakes on a vendor deal between SF State and Panda Express during its board meeting Wednesday with a resolution urging University Corporation to postpone negotiations with the company until Feb. 19.

The board hopes to establish a vendor services advisory assembly to assist UCorp with any further decisions about the vendor space. While UCorp Executive Director Jason Porth said that student surveys indicated support for a Panda Express on campus, the ASI board disagrees, according to President Phoebe Dye.

“There was a survey that was sent out to students a few years ago that they (UCorp) refer to and it’s clear that students don’t want these commercial vendors on campus with our campus culture of mom-and-pop vendors,” Dye said. “We want UCorp to hold off on putting in a vendor of this type and allowing AS to go to the students and ask them what they want.”

According to Vice President of University Affairs Celia LoBuono Gonzalez, data from the surveys showed students want healthy and affordable food options, which is why the board wants to reach out to the student body.

“This is a university, this is not like downtown.” Gonzalez said. “There is more of a community here. That’s why we need to have more student input.”

The conflicting survey readings may be because people interpret the data differently, according to ASI Junior Representative and UCorp board member Sarah Pishny, who said UCorp has yet to make any final decisions regarding a deal with Panda Express.

“The survey does illustrate that students enjoy chains but they also have a very strong desire to keep small business and mom-and-pop vendors here on campus,” Pishny said.

Panda Express offered to pay what would be the largest rent on campus as well as up to $500,000 in renovations that would benefit vendors in the lower level of the Cesar Chavez Student Center, according to Pishny.

UCorp’s guidelines allow for national chains to constitute 20 percent of all vendors on campus while maintaining 20 percent franchises and 60 percent local businesses. If the Panda Express deal is not approved, those guidelines will not necessarily change, Pishny said.

SF State has not hosted national chains on campus in the past and the consideration of Panda Express has sparked opposition from the Real Food Challenge group. Inviting a chain to do business on campus goes against the sustainability initiatives of the California State University, RFC President Rosie Linares said.

The CSU board of trustees approved a sustainable food policy in May 2014 that commits all 23 campuses to adhere to RFC guidelines by 2020. The guidelines require 20 percent of all campus food spending goes to local, sustainable farms and businesses.

Linares is working on a petition to garner support to stop UCorp from making a deal with Panda Express, which she will launch online in the next two weeks for students to sign.

“Panda Express is a start,” Linares said. “The root of the conversation is where the students’ support is.”