Imagine a daily commute to work with a parking spot search much like Christmas time at the mall. Circling the parking lots, aggressive drivers and the car-stalking of strangers in hopes of snagging their parking spot. This scenario may seem all too familiar because it’s an everyday reality for the 12,000 COC students fighting for one of only 3,600 available spaces and remarkably, the school’s suggestions on how to rectify this issue may be just as bad as searching for a parking spot.
“It is really hard to find parking here,” said student Cynthia Cisneros. “You have to either get here really early or wait for hours driving around.”
For those who have never experienced the parking at COC, before 8 a.m. finding a parking space is relatively easy, after that though it becomes much harder. “My first day of school I spent an hour looking for a spot,” said student Kelly Bravocuevas, who takes classes at both the Canyon Country and Valencia campuses. Since then, Bravocuevas has learned from her time circling the lots, so she now comes early and parks as far away as possible.
Some students have gone to great lengths to stay clear of the parking chaos, even resorting to a make-shift dirt parking lot at the corner of Rockwell Canyon and University Center Drive. The school said they do not control that lot nor do they know who owns it, so it’s unclear if the people parking there have permission to do so.
Even with the shortage of spots- only enough for 30 percent of the 12,000 permitted students- COC continues to rent out lots for movie productions, selling of Christmas trees and other community events. For the last several weeks, approximately 30 spaces have been occupied for the selling of Christmas trees. When COC spokesman Eric Harnish was asked where students who normally park in those spaces should go, he replied: “Students are welcome to park in any student parking lot where space is available.”
To compound the problem, construction on campus has been underway for nearly two years, forcing staff and construction workers to use student parking spots. Currently, lot one is being used as the staging point for construction of the Student Center and Administration building. However, the school said that the lot would be reopened to staff in spring of 2015. This will free up roughly 130 spaces for students that were previously being occupied by staff.
For fall of 2014, COC reported 18,000 enrolled students, 67 percent of them purchased permits from the school.
“We do not restrict sales of permits,” said Harnish. “Every student who wishes to purchase a parking permit may do so.
“What students may be unaware of is that line item two on the back of the pass states that the permit allows them to park on campus, but it does not guarantee them a spot.
In the past year alone, not including winter or summer semesters, the school has sold 33,750 parking permits for $35 a piece. That’s a grand total of $1.2 million of revenue for the school.
COC has said that much of the revenue from selling passes go towards the repayment of the $3.5 million it cost to build the south lot, which was completed nearly six years ago.
“Even when I come early, there’s no parking,” said freshman Joshua Gutierrez. “There should be more.” The students may think so, but the school does not as there are no plans for additional parking.
COC has chosen to spend money elsewhere, like on creating labs, classrooms and student services. The school has said that if any money were spent to build parking lots it would have to be diverted away from these types of projects.
Even with the schools decision to not expand parking, it is attempting to help ease the congestion. “We schedule classes throughout the day, instead of just in the morning,” said Harnish.
The idea behind shifting classes to the afternoon and evening time slots, which the school has been doing for the last few semesters, is to balance the demand for parking and spread the load throughout the day. Ideally, students who take classes during these non-peak morning hours will find parking to be more convenient.
COC also suggests students consider non-traditional formats of learning, like online classes or weekend college, which meet mostly online with in-class sessions held at the Canyon Country campus on Saturdays. According to the school, these options enable them to serve more students without adversely impacting parking.
As the search for parking becomes more difficult, perhaps COC might follow the example of other California colleges. De Anza College made a deal with the local transit agency to give students free bus passes. San Jose College created special parking spaces for carpooling students. It’s worth noting, that COC has special carpooling parking spaces for staff but not for students. These are small steps, but might be just enough to encourage students to use public transportation or to carpool, which in turn would lighten the parking problem.
The last two buildings in the Valencia campus master plan are nearing completion: the Culinary Arts and Administration/Student Services building. The school will no doubt use these new top-of-the line buildings, as well as the new labs and classrooms to showcase all that COC has to offer, which will most likely help spike enrollment.
So, when students return back to school in the spring, it’s likely there will be more students, more classrooms and you’ll have an even more difficult time finding parking.
Students obviously want a great academic experience, but if they can’t park, then they can’t get to class. Then what good will the new buildings, new classes and new labs be?
Time will tell what the best solution is to solve the growing concern over parking. One thing is for sure, unless COC plans to require all future students to only take online classes or weekend college, this parking situation is only going to get worse.