Homeless community college student parking bill put on hold

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Town Crier File Photo
State Assemblyman Marc Berman is delaying a bill that would require community colleges to let homeless students sleep in their cars in campus parking lots. A parking lot at the rear of Foothill College, above, has been used in the past by at least one homeless student as a place to park his car and sleep.

The future of State Assemblyman Marc Berman’s homeless student parking bill is uncertain. Last week, Berman announced that he is postponing his bill requiring community colleges to allow homeless students to sleep in their cars on campus.

The State Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill Aug. 30 with amendments that Berman said make the bill “incredibly weak” and stigmatize homeless students.

Berman, whose district includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, is making Assembly Bill 302 a two-year bill, delaying a vote on the measure.

The proposal’s ultimate fate is uncertain. Although Berman said he is open to moving forward with the bill if experts think it’s still worth it, he noted that there’s a high likelihood he’ll make changes or bring forward a different proposal combatting student homelessness.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, whose district also covers this area, was among the members of the Appropriations Committee who voted Aug. 30 to pass the bill as amended.

A representative from Hill’s office declined a request for an interview with the senator, citing Friday’s impending deadline to pass bills before the State Legislature goes into recess, as well as noting that Hill “generally lets his votes on bills speak for themselves.”

The Appropriations Committee made three amendments to the bill, including delaying its implementation from April 2020 to July 2021, which Berman said doesn’t address the immediacy of the need that homeless students face.

Community colleges also would have an easier time opting out of the bill’s requirements. Before, community colleges had to provide three types of support services for homeless students to opt out. Now, colleges need only meet one of the criteria.

“I think that’s an incredibly low bar and isn’t sufficient for addressing the community college student homelessness crisis that we have,” Berman said.

Finally, the amended version would exempt community colleges whose parking facilities are within 250 feet of an elementary school. Berman particularly objected to that provision, saying it stigmatizes homeless students and treats them like pedophiles.

These types of boundaries are normally used to prevent sex offenders, marijuana dispensaries and firearms from being near schools, the assemblyman said.

“Why are we putting homeless students in that same group? It doesn’t make any sense to me from a policy standpoint, but just further stigmatizes student homelessness,” Berman said.

He also noted that these programs would likely run at night, when an elementary school isn’t in session.

Controversial provisions

AB 302 generated substantial controversy in recent months, both statewide and locally, which Berman said he didn’t initially expect.

Approximately 40 people showed up for a July 16 meeting at Los Altos Hills Town Hall with Berman. Most expressed reservations with the bill, and at times the meeting grew heated.

The Los Altos Hills City Council ultimately voted last month to send a letter to Berman expressing concerns about the legislation, including potential problems with vandalism, trash, trespassing and safety.

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District hasn’t taken an official position on the bill.

Instead, administrators have both acknowledged the severity of the student homelessness problem while expressing reservations about the bill, including that no money is set aside to pay for the bill’s implementation.

Berman said once the State Legislature is in recess, he intends to work with experts in the field, as well as the governor’s office, to brainstorm other ways to fight student homelessness.

“I will definitely be proposing ideas and legislation in this space, trying to address the issue of student homelessness,” he said.

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