Homeless community college students who were hoping for the passage of a state bill to allow them to sleep in their cars overnight on campus will have to wait at least another year.
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, who authored the legislation, has delayed the bill's vote in response to amendments he said watered down its purpose. As a result, he's making AB 302 a two-year bill, meaning it won't be voted on during this legislative session.
AB 302 has drawn much attention and anticipation throughout California as community college students have emerged as the latest faces of the state's housing crisis. Statewide, nearly 1 in 5 community college students are either homeless or do not have a stable place to live, according to a recent survey conducted by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations decided on Friday to delay the implementation of the bill until July 1, 2021, and that the legislation would not apply to any community college within 250 feet of an elementary school. Also, community colleges that provide one or more of three housing services to homeless students — emergency housing grants, hotel vouchers or rapid rehousing referral services — would be exempt.
"The recent amendments to dramatically weaken the opt-out provisions and delay implementation an additional 15 months weaken the bill to the point that it fails to address the reality that our students are facing today," Berman said in a statement.
Berman sharply criticized the exemption for community colleges within 250 feet of elementary schools, noting that he is not aware of any elementary students who attend school between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. when safe lots programs typically operate.
"Homeless students are not pedophiles that need to be kept away from children. They are men and women — many of them barely adults themselves — who are trying to improve their lives by obtaining a better education," Berman said. "They should be celebrated, not stigmatized."
He said he decided to make AB 302 a two-year bill plan and will work this fall with the governor's office to "identify ways to more urgently alleviate the struggles that our community college students are facing every day, in a way that treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve."
The California Faculty Association, California School Employees Association, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and Student Senate for California Community Colleges have formally supported AB 302.
Many community colleges and districts, as well as the Community College League of California and Association of California Community College Administrators, have formally come out against it, however. Opponents criticize the legislation as a one-size-fits-all, temporary fix that will take resources away from long-term solutions, and have raised questions about cost and liability.
An analysis from the Senate Appropriations Committee notes the potential fiscal impact of the bill for community colleges, including $350,000 in one-time funds to conduct and release a student homelessness survey and $68,000 to hire a person to comply with the bill's reporting requirements and manage the survey.
The bill could also carry "unknown but significant reimbursable state mandated costs, potentially in the tens of millions of dollars in Proposition 98 General Fund each year, for community college districts to grant overnight access to their parking facilities and comply with the bill's requirements."
Preliminarily, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District has estimated that implementation of the bill could cost its campuses about $830,000 each per year for additional security, custodial support, fencing, signage and, if a parking lot is not available close to bathrooms, portable toilets.
A 2018 survey found that 11% of Foothill College students who responded are homeless and 41% are housing insecure.