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Clean Burn: SF City College Administrators Swindle Students out of $200G Biodiesel Grant

by Chris Avilla (info [at]
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
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