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Clean Burn: SF City College Administrators Swindle Students out of $200G Biodiesel Grant
by Chris Avilla ( info [at] faultlines.org )
Saturday Jun 23rd, 2007 2:27 PM
On April 19, City College of San Francisco celebrated Earth Day by showcasing alternative fuel and electrically powered vehicles on the school’s Ram Plaza. Among the line-up of vehicles was a biodiesel hot rod that some fellow CCSF students and I built in the school’s Automotive Department. The hotrod is a 1974 El Camino Super Sport that was originally gas powered with a 350 Chevy engine. We pulled the engine and replaced it with 6.2 liter GMC diesel engine and filled the tank with biodiesel.

The biodiesel hot rod project was initiated in the fall of 2005 by a few of us from the CCSF Anarchist Library-a group that has maintained a lending library in the school’s Student Union for the last five years. The group’s motivation for the project was to expose ourselves and other working class students to a fuel that can be made cheap or for free with the use of the proper filtration unit, as well as to see how fast we could get a car going on the fuel. Another one of our goals was to activate our biodiesel filling station at City College and learn how to provide an accessible and affordable fuel source, which we would use to power a collectively-run moving service fleet. This would allow us the ability to provide a living wage for struggling students as well as hooking up a working class community with super cheap fuel. Converting hot rods in particular is important to the club members, who see fit to give the current image of eco-friendly driving some appeal outside the realm of upper-middle class liberal environmentalists.

Hence the biodiesel El Camino Super Sport. This is a car that one could throw a set of 22s on and proudly show off. So when club members showed up with the Super Sport for the Earth Day event, they had no problem attracting a crowd of car enthusiasts. After all, the car was looking tight, with a fresh coat of paint and an engine loud enough to wake the block up and turn some heads. When students found out that it was biodiesel fueled and had the potential to run off waste grease from the school cafeteria, jaws dropped in amazement. After much hard work, we had successfully produced a mean machine that runs on free fuel, is better for the environment, and better for human health.

Three days after the auto show, MTV aired their "Pimp My Green Ride" episode, in which they took a beater ‘65 Chevy Impala and did a similar engine swap to the one we did. Even the Governator himself appeared to give a thumbs-up for biodiesel. Then they took the Impala to the racetrack where they raced a Lamborghini at the quarter mile, leaving the flashy Italian racecar in the dust. Needless to say, pimped out alt-fuel automobiles, like all things “green,” are ripe for the mainstream.

Despite all of this popularity, our Biodiesel Club has been met with serious resistance from the Evan’s campus administration. Vice-Chancellor Phyllis McGuire, the Dean of the Evans Campus, has refused to allow the club access to funding for our project and denied us a permanent space to keep the El Camino, prioritizing the project of the Motorsports Club instead. It is a front club started by staff member Ron Young, who posed as a student by signing up for one class so he could start a club and work his way into Student Government. Over time, Young somehow got his paws on $19,000 of student activity money to buy a Kit Cobra race car. With full support from Dean McGuire and limited student involvement, Young managed to finally get the car running five years later, only to total it on Evans Campus. After teachers told him not to drive it, he invited our school counselor Dennis to sit passenger as he stepped on a stuck gas pedal and then, stepping on a brake line that snapped, he crashed into a pole and they were both hospitalized. Dennis suffered severe head and knee injuries and hasn’t returned to work since the accident, which was in November.

The accident was quickly swept under the rug and all negative focus has remained on the Biodiesel Club. In fact, City College Police harassment got so bad that we had to get automotive teachers who were fed up with the cops’ harassment to convince the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor to step in on our behalf. That got the police off our backs, but administration found something new to hassle us about when we decided to move club outreach out from faculty advisor David Dias’ hands and into our own. Club members wanted to post fliers that reflected our concerns and interests. The first flier we posted focused on class issues rather than environmental, picturing Mickey Mouse flipping off the bosses of oil companies. The flier was up for a day before Dias found it and instructed all fliers to be torn down, as it reflected poorly the message that he wanted to portray about biodiesel being better for the environment. In one day our flier brought in more people to a meeting for new members than all of David’s fliers put together in the previous year. It was a diverse crew of working class folks ages 20-60, even one GI and a city college landscape worker. Dean McGuire then instructed Dias to formally censor the club, denying us all rights to advertise or be our own media contact. We then decided to get rid of David and go with Transmissions Instructor Barry Lynch as the club’s new advisor.

Weeks later, David approached us saying that the EPA was planning to give the garage a biodiesel grant of $200,000. Apparently the EPA had seen what we did with the El Camino and considered it cutting edge, while the administration acted as though they were supporting our project. The Biodiesel Club was lead to believe that the grant money would benefit the students, and we were asked to get the car ready for a press conference. Spending money out of pocket and backtracking on the project, both club members and faculty made the car picture-worthy. In the end the grant money was put in the pockets of the administrators, with a small portion to go toward a biodiesel workshop that CCSF students are not allowed to attend. Anarchist club members were not surprised by this swindle. Unfortunately it left other students and faculty upset for being lied to. If anything, this latest scandal validates the anarchist standpoint that we, the working class, must take production of bio-fuel into our own hands and not concern ourselves with going mainstream in hopes of getting the approval of big oil, and automotive and transportation industries.

From Fault Lines #21

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Monk
Wednesday Jun 27th, 2007 2:44 PM
Maybe if the Anarchist’s were not such abrasive jerks, they might be treated better. You can’t go around harassing teachers, the administration and other students and expect people to do you favors. If this was any other well meaning group of student’s, it probably would not be an issue. If you live your life trying to be a thorn in somebody’s side, don’t be surprised when they pluck it out. City College of San Francisco is one of the most liberal institutions in the nation yet the Anarchists still manage to alienate themselves. Try being nice once in a while, you might be surprised.
by Chris
Thursday Jun 28th, 2007 8:46 PM
What are you talking about. You obviously have no clue how closely we work with faculty and students on that campus. The real threat to administration is the fact that we are to organized and have to much support in that garage. You go and ask any of the teachers or students about us and they'll tell you that the last thing we are doing is alienating ourselves. Now maybe your one of those fake anarchists that thinks we need to improve our image blow off the working class and start kissing the deans ass because she is in high position reagardless if she knows anything about auto repair or not, but not us. We give respect where its due and in turn get respect becuase we deserve it. Before you start making wild accusations you might want do your homework first and not just listen to silly rumors
Regardless of our attitude though, the administration pocketed the money because they knew they could get away with it. It was faculty that came to us to report what happened becuase we are the only ones on that campus that does anything to advocate for students and faculty. It was faculty and student that came to us about the student monies being wasted on a kit car that students had nothing to do with.
That is the real reason why the adminsitration gives us a hard time. That is why the cops mess with us because we've stood up against them. We got the chief of police fired. We did that. While you were out bickering online about image we were out doing something. If we come off negative you should see how some of the faaculty come off and you'll think we're angels.