Responding to homeowners fed-up with a slew of college students parking in their neighborhoods, district Trustee Kyle Carter suggested Bakersfield College should all but eliminate parking permit fees for students.
Kern Community College District charges BC students $45 per semester for parking. If Carter has his way, he would charge just $2 or $3 to cover administrative fees related to issuing permits, he said.
Most students are struggling just to pay tuition and others work to support their families, Carter said.
“Are we being greedy here?” Carter asked during a Friday morning interview with The Californian. “The people of Bakersfield have been so good to grant us this half-billion dollar bond. Can’t we ease up on the parking fees?”
He was referring to a $502.8 million bond measure voters passed in November for major facilities upgrades, including overhauling Memorial Stadium, erecting a new veterans center and constructing a STEM building.
Between semester passes, day parking passes and tickets issued, the college brought in about $900,000 in 2016-2017. About $760,000 was spent on salaries and benefits for public safety officers who patrol the lots plus supplies, operating expenses and equipment, according to Marlene Heise, the district's interim spokeswoman. The remaining $140,000 went into a restricted fund that rolled over into the following fiscal year.
The college has been unwilling to own the parking problem for years, Carter said.
“Now is the time to be more aggressive. This isn’t right. We have these beautiful parking lots and people can’t afford to park in them,” he added.
Beyond the cost to students, homeowners have already paid once to build the parking lots with their taxes, Carter said, and “now they have to put up with everybody parking in front of their houses.”
BC Public Safety Chief Christopher Counts said the college has been developing solutions to the parking issue, including charging varying amounts for parking lots depending on their proximity to campus. Lots under shaded solar panels would cost more, while those in the remote lot south of the baseball diamonds would cost less, Counts said.
"They want to park close. Those northeast lots, people drive around 15 or 30 minutes waiting for a stall to open instead of just going to the other lots," Counts said. "We can't tell them where to park."
He's also exploring the option of purchasing three electric 15-passenger vehicles at a cost of about $30,000 each to shuttle students from those remote lots to the core of campus. Costs could be cut down through grants and employing students to drive the shuttles, Counts said.
The Californian published a story Wednesday about how street parking increased in neighborhoods south of campus after another neighborhood east of the college petitioned for restricted parking zones.
Readers sounding off on Facebook have no shortage of suggestions about how to ease the parking pains around BC.
Some called for a parking structure, something that doesn’t seem to be immediately needed since there’s generally ample parking in the lot south of BC’s baseball diamonds, albeit a longer walk to classrooms than other lots.
Others suggested the college include the $45 parking fee in the cost of tuition and make parking “free.”
Victoria Cargill had an idea similar to the one the district is exploring, saying BC ought to make the south lot free, but continue charging students to park in the lots on the northeast side of campus under shaded solar panel structures. Another reader suggested the district use the money saved and earned through those solar panels to maintain lots and make parking free.
Meanwhile, some attacked the college for charging students for parking when it’s raking in cash through bond measures and state funding.
“There’s so much going on at the college right now. We’re excited about what’s going on up there,” Carter said. “But I don’t want to get a black eye because of this parking thing.”