Assembly Bill 302, authored by Mark Berman (D) Palo Alto, has been withdrawn, but for all the wrong reasons.
The “safe parking” bill, written in Jan. 2019, was intended to provide immediate relief for homeless students. The bill would allow homeless and housing insecure students who attend California Community Colleges to sleep in their cars in a designated, monitored campus parking area. The colleges would be required to implement a plan of action, and the students would have to be in good standing with the college with no outstanding tuition dues. The state would reimburse colleges on certain costs mandated by the bill.
Palo Alto Online reported in April 2019 that Berman was inspired to author the bill after listening to student’s stories at five informational hearings between 2017 and 2018. Matthew Bodo, a third year student at Foothill College in Los Altos, told Palo Alto online that he had to work full time while going to school and had nowhere to sleep but his vehicle. Berman said that creating designated spaces for students forced to sleep in their vehicles would add some security for them and allow them to continue their studies. The bill met some initial opposition because the costs associated with it were unknown and believed expensive.
Berman himself withdrew the bill on Sept. 5, citing his opposition to new amendments added by the Senate Appropriation Committee. The amendments would postpone the bill by two years, make it easier for campuses to opt out, and prohibit “safe parking” spaces at colleges that are within 250 feet of an elementary school. Berman was especially upset by the 250 foot rule beacuse of it’s similarity to restrictions placed on sex offenders. Berman withdrew the bill and decided to delay its implementation for another year — until 2021.
The reasons for the withdrawal are all valid but none are correct. Sleeping in your car should be decriminalized — but no one should have to do it. Cars are not intended for sleeping. If space is needed for sleeping, then the space should be created, period. Direct action is needed to end suffering, but this bill is a stop-gap measure that only prolongs the problem.
Throughout the American Southwest we have seen super shopping centers repurposed to be ICE detention centers. Currently a Walmart superstore stands abandoned on Edgewater Drive, here in Oakland. If these “super” spaces can be used to imprison people, why can’t they be used as housing? It would seem simple enough to create dormitories inside a vacant, unused building in a style reminiscent of a YMCA.
Solutions do exist, and we should expect our elected officials to provide them. If we continue to accept half measures, soon we will be left with nothing.