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Friday, April 19, 2024

The Green Initiative Fund at risk of dissolving, posing a threat to campus sustainability projects

If the student-run sustainability initiative does not pass during spring 2023 ASUCD elections, it could be shut down after this year

 

By INDRANIL BASU — features@theaggie.org

 

Many students have seen the sheepmowers on the Wickson Hall lawn or the Freedges and compacting compost bins around campus. These projects are funded by The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), a campus grant program housed in the UC Davis Sustainability office

According to its website, TGIF “promotes sustainable development by providing necessary funding to the UC Davis community” and empowers students to “develop, propose, and enact sustainable projects on campus.” The program runs across five UC campuses in addition to UC Davis and provides between $200 to $20,000 to undergraduate student projects that align with one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Goals

Founded in 2016, TGIF was funded through student fees until its five-year term ended in 2021. Since then, a measure to renew the program has been on the ASUCD election ballot twice, in spring 2021 and fall 2022, but it has failed to pass both times. Currently, the program is not receiving any funding and is functioning off of reserve money. 

“Many students and campus programs rely on TGIF to jumpstart new initiatives and projects that improve campus for all of us to experience,” said Raquel Victoria Navarro, a former TGIF grantee in a testimonial for TGIF. “Without the renewal of TGIF, many students and other programs would have very limited funds to actualize their sustainability goals.”

In spring 2023, ASUCD Senate Bill #88, introduced by the Environmental Policy and Planning Commission (EPPC) and endorsed by the Internal Affairs Commission (IAC), put TGIF’s Sustainability Grant Program Renewal Undergraduate Referendum on the ballot. The measure will renew TGIF with a quarterly student fee of $3.50 and a $0.50 increase every year, capped at $8. Twenty-five percent of this fee would be used for Return to Aid.

To pass in the elections, the fee referendum needs at least 60% of votes in favor. In fall 2022, it received a 79.85% majority. However, student-voter turnout also needs to meet a 20% threshold, which is around 6,300 students. In the past two elections, turnout has only reached 5.58%

“It’s not that people don’t want these programs to exist,” said Daphne Crother, a third-year political science major and member of the EPPC. “We just need more people from the student body to vote.”

According to Kelly Abey, a third-year environmental policy analysis and planning and sustainable environmental design double major and the EPPC ex-officio representative on the TGIF committee, voter turnout for the referendum is low because many students don’t know about ASUCD elections or when they occur. 

TGIF and ASUCD have been working together to try to increase voter turnout, according to Annie Kanjamala, a second-year environmental science and management major and TGIF committee member

“We have been tabling at the MU for the entire quarter basically,” Kanjamala said. “And we’re putting out flyers and having a raffle, which you can enter if you have voted to win a gift card to Davis Food Co-op.” 

TGIF consists of 12 members in total, with nine student committee members: eight undergraduates and one graduate. Six of these members are voting members. Because of the initiative’s small size, its presence on campus is limited, which contributes to difficulties in getting large numbers of students to vote. 

The length of time ASUCD elections are open will increase from 72 hours to five days this spring in an effort to further increase the number of students who vote. Even with this change though, some have begun to question the voter-turnout requirement. While student fee referendums need 20% voter turnout to pass, elections for ASUCD senate don’t have a threshold. In the past election, only 3.87% of students voted for candidate positions. In fact, TGIF had the highest percentage turnout, with 1,499 votes for the referendum compared to 1,041 for senators. 

“Before TGIF, I never voted in elections because I never knew it was going on, or even if I did, I’d always have this mentality that I don’t know how to vote,” said Danielle Lowe, a second-year landscape architecture and design double major and committee member for TGIF. “Being part of TGIF, I learned how easy it is to vote, […] Take just 10 minutes just to educate yourself about who your student representatives are or what the measures are about, and that way, you can voice your opinions on campus.”

Two of the projects TGIF funded this year through reserve money were $20,000 each. Currently in the works is a rooftop garden on top of the CoHo which will grow produce that will be used in the kitchen. Surplus from the garden will be given to the Pantry. All current projects will continue to be supported by TGIF until they are finished successfully; however, if the fee referendum doesn’t pass, TGIF will no longer be able to fund new projects.

“The stakes are very high for this election,” said Madison Suoja, the TGIF grant program manager.  “We are pretty much at the last of our reserve funds. To be transparent with everybody, we don’t have the funds to cover operational expenses for next year. This is TGIF’s last chance. We don’t think we can necessarily pass again in the future if we’re not able to get enough people to vote now.” 

Abey and Lowe both believe TGIF benefits all UC Davis students, not just those who receive grants for projects or research. 

“One of the main things we look for while approving a project is that it somehow benefits the whole undergrad population,” Lowe said. “Even if you’re not involved with sustainability, you are still interacting with things TGIF does. People get to enjoy the sheepmowers because TGIF was able to fund them. Just seeing a bunch of sheep on campus can make your day, and affect your mental health positively when you’re tugged down with midterms. General things on campus that you can get small happiness from can be from TGIF.”

According to Kanjamala, not many other options are available to fund student sustainability and research projects aside from TGIF grants.  

“One of our grant recipients said it’s very hard to find funding for undergrad research […] without TGIF,” Kanjamala said. “I don’t know where else they would find that funding.”

According to Suoja, if the TGIF referendum passes in spring, the initiative will begin receiving funds in the fall and the student fee will last for another 10 years. 

“This is a really great funding opportunity for undergrad students to do sustainability on campus and have access to up to $20,000,” Suoja said. “It not existing on the UC Davis campus would be really sad and detrimental to students.”

Voting for the spring 2023 ASUCD elections will be open April 24-28 online at https://elections.ucdavis.edu/. Students can follow TGIF on Instagram at @tgifatucdavis and visit their website at https://tgif.ucdavis.edu/ to view the over 115 projects it has funded or apply for grant funding.

 

Written by: Indranil Basu — features@theaggie.org 

 

Correction: In a previous version of this article, two quotes were misattributed to Kelly Abey when they were said by Annie Kanjamala. It was also falsely stated that TGIF only funded two projects this year. The article has been updated to include the correct information.