Neighbors of Santa Monica College are upset over two bills being considered in the state Legislature that would broaden a policy that they say has caused overcrowding at the school and chronic traffic and parking problems in their neighborhoods.
The so-called "community college free flow" bills would make it illegal for community college districts to prohibit students living within their boundaries from attending colleges in other districts.
The bills are sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) and state Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach).
About half of the estimated 11,000 students who attend Santa Monica College each day live outside the school's district, according to Tom Donner, assistant superintendent for business.
Duke Kelso, a spokesman for the Santa Monica Safe Streets Committee, said students from outside the district have caused "intolerable" traffic and parking problems in the surrounding neighborhoods. The homeowners group recently gathered 600 signatures on a petition asking the Santa Monica City Council to establish preferential parking in their area.
"We realize that the community college needs to serve the community, that it needs to educate the kids, but it can't be at the expense of the residents of the neighborhoods around the campus," Kelso said.
Regula Ziegler, a committee member, said she wrote Hayden a letter on June 7 and called his office to voice opposition to the bills. Ziegler said she was never able to speak with Hayden and he has not responded to the letter.
In her letter, Ziegler suggests an amendment that would require community colleges with students from outside the district to undertake environmental impact studies to determine the students' effect on the surrounding community.
Hayden said he would consider such an amendment.
He said he introduced the bill, which has passed the Assembly and is scheduled to go before the Senate Education Committee on July 1, to allow Californians to attend the community college of their choice and to avoid "painful negotiations" between districts over students. (Beverly's bill has been passed by the Senate.)
The parking problem at Santa Monica College is "basically a conflict that has to be resolved between the college and residents," Hayden said, offering to mediate between the two sides.
The Santa Monica district is operating under a contract with the Los Angeles Community College District that allows students from that district to attend Santa Monica College, according to Donner. Santa Monica puts no restrictions on where students who live within its district can attend community college.
Donner said he did not blame the size of the student body for the parking problem.
"What caused the parking problem is the fact that we don't have enough parking spaces," he said.
College officials have estimated the shortage to be 1,360 parking spaces during the day and 2,120 at night.
The college is looking for sites for a park-and-ride service similar to those at UCLA, where students are shuttled to campus from off-campus parking lots, he said. The college is also considering building a parking garage beneath the school's softball field, Donner said.
The committee, however, is pushing a permit parking plan that would ban students from parking within a three-block radius of the campus.