Opinion: A sad piece of legislation on car camping at community colleges


Daily Post Editor

Marc Berman, the former Palo Alto City Councilman who now represents the mid-Peninsula in the state Assembly, has introduced a bill that would let homeless community college students sleep overnight in campus parking lots.

This is a truly sad bill.

Instead of addressing the problem by spending some of the state’s surplus on student housing, this bill essentially says it’s OK if students become car campers.

It reminds me of the trend about 10 years ago when cities including Palo Alto were buying the homeless shopping carts to carry around their belongings. That solution didn’t address homelessness, it just perpetuated it.

Berman’s bill, AB302, is an update to the shopping cart strategy.

Berman says his bill addresses an immediate problem — that students are already sleeping in their vehicles, and that they’ll be forced into the shadows where they are more vulnerable.

He doesn’t deny that more housing is necessary in the long run, but he feels the state needs to address a problem that already exists.

His statement would have more credibility if, at the same time he introduced the car camping bill, he had also introduced a bill to provide more housing on community college campuses.

An easy bill to pass

But the car camping bill is an easy one to pass, while securing funding for student housing is a longer, harder slog.

Berman’s bill passed the Assembly last month, 60-8. It’s headed to the Senate for more scrutiny.

Now 20 community colleges and college districts are opposing the bill, saying it would subject them to tens of millions of dollars of new costs for security, maintenance and liability costs, according to the Sacramento Bee.

His bill has been amended to give community colleges a way to avoid allowing car camping if they offer homeless or nearly homeless students a housing grant, hotel vouchers or referrals to organizations that can find them new housing.

AWOL on SB50

The car camping bill is the only noticeable action Berman has taken on the housing front during this session, despite the burning crisis that has tortured renters in his district. Rents have been soaring and longtime residents have been forced to move. The number of homeless people is rising.

He took no position on SB50, a bill that would pre-empt local zoning to allow high-density housing near transit and in “jobs rich” communities like Palo Alto. Both sides of SB50 make a compelling case. Supporters say more housing is needed now, while opponents fear high-density housing would disrupt neighborhoods of single-family homes.

While that bill was the subject of heated town meetings and daily headlines, Berman quietly sat out the debate.

He should have at least taken a side or pushed for a compromise to help his constituents. Instead, he sat on the fence. Sadly, he’s exhibited no leadership.

SB50 has been put off until January 2020, but it would have been great to see our Assemblyman in the fray, pushing for bigger, broader solutions than just a sad bill about car camping in college parking lots.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].

1 Comment

  1. Amen! Berman’s bill is an insult to students. Instead of helping them live in filth and threat of violence, we need to find these kids safe places to live. That ought to be his priority. This bill is ridiculous.

    And you raise a great question, why is he not engaged in the larger issue of housing? Berman is totally shirking his responsibilities.

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