Much like in the original recommendation, which the council briefly considered on Aug. 19, the proposed Rail Blue Ribbon Committee would be charged with advising the council on both the best options for grade separation — the realignment of rail crossings so that tracks don't intersect with streets — and the best way to pay for these options. But unlike last month, Shikada is no longer calling for the committee to be made up entirely of former elected officials — a criterion that some argued is too restrictive.
If approved by the council on Monday, the Rail Blue Ribbon Committee would operate independently of the existing citizens group, which is known as the Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP). Unlike XCAP, the committee would be subject by the Brown Act, which would effectively prohibit people with property rights next to the rail corridor to participate. The XCAP, by contrast, includes members who live near the tracks and who represent their neighborhoods in discussions on grade separation.
The new committee would not evaluate the technical aspects of various grade separation options, which would remain the purview of XCAP. Rather, it would take the information developed by staff and XCAP, consider funding options and craft recommendations for the City Council to consider, according to a new report from Shikada's office. And rather than prioritize neighborhood impacts, the new group would focus on the big picture, both locally and regionally.
So far, the idea of appointing yet another committee to work on grade separation has met a mixed reception.
"Why not simply appoint a few more members — former electives or whoever is qualified — to XCAP?" XCAP member Phil Burton asked at the group's Aug. 21 meeting. "Beef it up. Why duplicate and lose a lot of time in the process."
If the council agrees to form the new rail committee on Monday, it will have to decide how to pick its members. Shikada had offered several alternatives, including allowing each council member to select one or two individuals; establishing an open application process; or letting Shikada bring forward candidates for the council to approve.
Bill for homeless students pushed to next legislative session
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."
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.
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