Last week, the Santa Monica Daily Press reported that the Santa Monica Community College Board of Trustees is considering its own ballot initiative to be placed on the fall ballot. The $295 million bond measure would pay for on-campus upgrades including classroom modernization, earthquake proofing existing facilities and “reducing parking and traffic impacts” as the Expo Line opens near campus next month.
Even opponents of the measure concede it will likely pass, as the college rightfully enjoys high popularity in the community. However, the Santa Monica Next editorial board believes that with this new bond measure, SMC should take its historical commitment to the community and to its students to the next level and start to plan for on- or off- campus housing for its students.
Providing affordable housing near campus that rents below market-rate for students of the college, even dorm rooms in many cases, would improve many students’ quality of life by alleviating long commutes to campus, would help them save money by removing the need for a car, and help alleviate the negative impacts that housing insecurity, which disproportionately affects lower income students, can have on their academic performances.
Given the breadth of transportation options near campus, for many students, even part-time ones with full-time jobs, might find themselves leading car-free lifestyles.
Santa Monica College’s main campus is located in a particularly transit-rich area. It’s roughly half a mile from the Expo light rail station at Colorado Avenue and 17th Street. Bike lanes on 17th Street make it an inviting north-south route for people riding between the main campus and the Expo station. With three bike-share stations on or immediately across the street from the main campus, riding will definitely be an option for many.
The main campus is also readily accessible by bus. The Big Blue Bus 7 and Rapid 7 lines connect the campus to Downtown Santa Monica and the rest of Pico Boulevard as far east as Rimpau and the Purple line station at Wilshire and Western. The Big Blue Bus has also introduced a new circulator bus to connect the campus to the Expo station at 17th Street, Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, which are transfer points to bus lines like the Metro 20 and 720, which run all the way to Downtown L.A. and the Big Blue Bus routes 1 and 2, which connect to UCLA.
A bond that included a plan for new housing construction would have two major benefits for the residents of Santa Monica, current and future, that aren’t students at the college.
First, for every student who may have driven to campus and then moves into the new dorms or apartments, there are two less car trips to the campus everyday. In this case, because the housing would be restricted to people who have to access the campus who are likely using their cars to do so now, the impact on local traffic could be dramatic.
Providing free transit passes for students, as some have proposed, may help save them money, but does nothing to alleviate the stress of hours-long commutes. Some students already live in less transit rich areas and will be unlikely to change their commuting habits.
Second, the housing removes Santa Monica students from the large pool of people seeking housing in Santa Monica. This would remove some pressure off the already boiler-room levels on the market — a direct consequence of Santa Monica’s severe housing shortage — and could even free some of the existing housing stock being used by students.
Finding affordable housing can be a major stressor for lower-income students and the uncertainty of not having secure housing can have tremendously negative impacts on those students’ academic performance. The vicious cycle of not having the resources to get ahead and then falling further behind because of it is one many low-income people know all too well; providing secure housing, especially for students who may otherwise be struggling to keep a roof over their heads, can dramatically improve students’ chances at success.
Santa Monicans have a long history of supporting its educational institutions at the ballot box and SMC has an equally long history of honoring that support. It would be great if SMC would take its long-standing commitment to community to the next level and using some of its bond money to help both its students and all Santa Monicans.