Cooperative Living

Exploring the past and future of co-ops at UCSC and in Santa Cruz

1505
Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 5.39.40 PM
Illustration by Miguel Hernandez

The typewriter sat on the kitchen table for five years. Anyone who passed it was welcome to sit down and type something, adding to the narrative of the group journal kept by UC Santa Cruz’s first and only housing cooperative — People’s Alternative Dwellings (PAD).

Co-ops like PAD are owned democratically and aren’t under the authority of university housing or a landlord. Residents have the agency to make living choices as they see fit. They can establish a living environment directed toward their own community values and morals. These vary between organizations, but typically revolve around values of self-responsibility, democracy, equality and solidarity.

“We had a very intense experience being in the co-op and developing this consensus process around our campus life together … It was a very dynamic group,” said PAD co-founder Mark Lipson. “Everybody shared a lot of what was going on in their schoolwork and their life.”

The first generation of about 20 “PADsters” moved into the co-op in the Merrill A building in 1979, when university housing gave the students two unoccupied floors. Because the dorms had their own kitchen students didn’t need a meal plan, which cut down the cost of living.

“You learn so much about how to live with other people, you learn how to cook,” said Anne Biklé, a former PAD member. “These people basically become a family.”

Throughout the 1970s, co-ops flourished at university, city and state levels, and the ideologies of cooperatives as autonomous associations weren’t limited to housing, but were also models for The Associated Press or UCSC’s bike co-op.

In the ’70s, food co-ops were all over California, said Scott Rosen, an employee of Neighborhood Foods, a Santa Cruz food co-op. But with the rise of supermarket chains, those numbers declined and Neighborhood Foods was one of the co-ops headed under. Roseman offered to buy what was left, and turned it into a natural foods grocery store now called New Leaf Community Markets.

“You look at New Leaf and see the success that we’ve had, and I think it’s a lot to do with the roots of where we came from,” Roseman said.

Co-ops provide a platform for members to create a space they want and incite action through it. Kresge co-op members often participate in student actions, most recently through their “Save the Meadows” campaign to raise awareness for the university’s plan to build housing on the Porter meadows. While many co-ops that exist outside of a university have paid employees, the Kresge Food co-op is entirely volunteer-run and is able to stay afloat because of its $10 annual rent.

Kresge Food Co-op. Photo by Jasper Lyons.
Kresge Food Co-op. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

“One of the biggest challenges specific to working and living in Santa Cruz is it’s really expensive to be here,” said a volunteer for the Kresge food co-op. “People often have to quit working with us because they need to get a job. It’s really hard to find people who have the time to commit to the space.”

This is one reason why cooperative businesses and households are hurting. Santa Cruz has seen massive closures in the past five years of housing co-ops, and UCSC’s bike co-op doesn’t have a space this year. The North American Students of Cooperation, an organizing network of co-ops that owned the local Zami! and Cesar Chavez houses, decided to close both houses. Twelve Tribes Jewish co-op and Food Not Lawns also closed their doors.

Zami! is a housing cooperative in Santa Cruz. It houses 12-16 people and is grounded in ideals of diversity, cultural awareness and providing a safe space. Photo by Casey Amaral.
Zami! is a housing cooperative in Santa Cruz. It houses 12-16 people and is grounded in ideals of diversity, cultural awareness and providing a safe space. Photo by Casey Amaral.

In the battle for preserving alternative housing options for students, like the Kresge Camper Park, unconventional living spaces are losing out. The land the trailer park occupies is slated for development in UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan, but the exact time and plan has yet to be specified.

This isn’t the first time increasing enrollment has threatened alternative living spaces. PAD closed in 1985 when the university needed dorm space.

Mark Lipson notes that recreating an on-campus housing co-op like PAD would be nearly impossible because the university must expand to accommodate increased enrollment — the target freshman enrollment for fall 2016 is 4,300 students. But the recent roadblocks for co-ops in Santa Cruz didn’t sway his support for cooperative living at UCSC.

“Campus is still growing and by God housing is just a terrible crisis,” Lipson said. “So I don’t know. Somebody ought to put that idea forward.”