BC plans to charge for free parking.

Rober Mullen, Reporter

Come Fall of 2013, students at Bakersfield College will find parking much more expensive. “We’re looking at both the parking fee, the amount, and we’re looking at eliminating free parking,” said Sean James, BC’s executive director of administrative services. This comes as part of an effort to deal with the costs regarding maintenance and security in BC parking lots.

“We’ve lost money in our parking fees every year, for the last four years,” James said. “Not only do we not have a fund balance, we went negative last year, which means we’re spending more and there’s no accumulation. We did an analysis and we estimated it at a million dollars to do repairs on our parking lots without doing any upgrades. And so we’re watching what’s going on, we see the cars getting stolen, which tells us the security could be better, we’ve had complaints about a lack of lighting in the free parking . . . so what we have to look at is how do we generate money as required or allowed under the state [education] code to maintain those parking lots and provide security.”

James says it would be incredibly challenging to try and raise the funds necessary to address these issues without these parking price increases. Other options included raising the fee for daily visitor parking, which has helped sell more permits, or taking money from the school’s general fund, which James says is undesirable. “We’re looking at plans to generate the money, and what’s really tough about this is that if I were to pay for it from the general fund, then we’ll have to cancel classes.”

California law does not require colleges to provide free parking, and allows a school to charge up to $50 for parking permits, which is helpful in attempting to raise the necessary funds. “When the state gives you an avenue to provide revenue for certain things,” James said, “you really don’t want to go to your general fund and start impacting the educational side of the house.”

While he understands the added difficulty these increases will have on students, James says cutting free parking and raising permit prices to fix the parking lots is the lesser of two evils. “There’s just no way we can sell the number of permits we [currently] sell and have money to start improving our parking lots. If you go out to those parking lots, we’re starting to develop potholes, we’re starting really undermine the structure underneath the parking lot. If that continues those parking lots will be gone, and I’m going to have to find a million dollars somewhere else in our budget.” James also added that a lot of these issues are well past the point in which they should have been taken care of, thus the hurried timeline. “I was asked to come down here to deal with a number of issues. I started the analysis when I got here and I’m bringing to light some issues that should have been addressed years ago, and we really need to start focusing on them now to move forward.”

James admits it’s very difficult to deal with these issues while also struggling with budget cuts and a down economy. “I come in with a very strong budget background, and so when I look at this ‘it’s are we effectively doing things?’ We’re looking at infrastructure replacement under the whole campus because water and gas lines are 50 years old. There’s been a real [maintenance and operations] issue related to painting buildings and some other general maintenance. We’re spending money on that which wasn’t done before I got here. So we’re trying to upgrade the campus and bring it up to the level that I think everybody expects.

“I don’t think people realize, it’s either, or. Everybody wants to do everything, but we have a very fixed budget. If I’m going to spend a million on parking lots, then we’re talking about cutting 300 classes. That’s a lot of sections to tell students they’re not going to take, and they’re here to go to school. So we really do need to balance what we’re allowed to charge for and providing the education. And I know everybody’s reluctant to pull back from the classes and offerings to students, because that’s actually what they’re here for.”

Currently, James has talked with other administrators and the SGA about the proposal and hopes he’ll be able to submit the proposal to the school board soon. “I think we’ll have something in the next month, to try and bring forward a recommendation to our board, on whether or not to raise the fees and whether or not to eliminate free parking.”

The decision to eliminate free parking will not have to go through the school board before it’s sent to the president, but the attempt to raise permit fees will. If passed, James has several ideas beyond simple maintenance, including increasing security patrols and ticketing those who park without a permit. James notes that it still may be some time before any improvements can be made even if these proposals are put into effect, as there is currently no money in the budget.

“We can probably talk to the board about borrowing money and repaying it later, it’s unlikely until I get some money into the fund that I’ll be able to afford any work.”