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Home Featured Homeless advocates criticize Sheehy bike bill

Homeless advocates criticize Sheehy bike bill

What's a 'chop shop' and what's a collection of bicycles by someone without a roof over their head?

Is this a 'chop shot' -- or a bike lover's basement?

An ordinance prohibiting outdoor bicycle assembly is on track to pass at the Board of Supervisors, and it could lead to penalizing homeless people and seizure of their bicycles, according to homeless advocates.

The board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee sent it to the full board on July 10 on a 2–1 vote. If it passes there, the ordinance would outlaw open-air “chop shops” where bicycles are put together and sold. The proposal, authored by District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, defines “chop shops” as operations on public streets with five or more bicycles or five or more bicycle parts, among other provisions.

Is this a 'chop shot' -- or a bike lover's basement?
Is this a ‘chop shop’ — or a bike lover’s basement?

The panel heard opposing views from members of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Democratic Socialists of America and the Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes the Street Sheet.

Opponents criticized the measure as an ineffective way to combat bike theft while targeting for police scrutiny unhoused people who rely on their bicycles for transportation and store extra parts.

The ordinance comes at a time when San Francisco grapples with sprouting encampments throughout the city. The section that empowers police to ticket people and impound bicycles struck opponents as unfair to homeless people.  

Coalition on Homelessness organizer Dayton Andrews told the panel that the ordinance’s definition of a chop shop “is the definition of any bicycle owner’s garage.”

Under the ordinance, people with impounded bicycles can retrieve them if they can prove some proof of ownership, such as a registration or serial number, within 15 days. But the Coalition on Homelessness said in a policy analysis that homeless people often lose documents and identification when living on the streets.

James West, a homeless person who helped build Box City units as part of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge, recalled an incident where providing such proof didn’t deter cops from impoundment.

“I heard they (police) run the bikes through and they took it anyway, at the same time it wasn’t reported stolen,” he said.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who dissented in the committee vote, took a different approach in his opposition. He said that he inquired police — but got no reply — on whether they have a place to store confiscated bikes and the staff to watch them. He also pointed out that bicycle theft is already against the law, with “organized elements” operating theft rings.

“The question is, do we have the police will to enforce the tools we already have in our books,” he said. But Peskin also alluded to the ordinance’s impact on homeless people.

“This legislation only deals with it as an outside phenomenon, not an inside phenomenon,” he said.

Using data from the city’s 311 telephone system, Sheehy pointed out that more than 700 calls were made to report stolen bikes, with most of the incidents reported to the police station serving his district.

The full board is scheduled to vote on the ordinance on July 18.


  1. Well, I wouldn’t say that spending is not efficacious. It permanently houses 8000 and shelters a few thousand more.

    And it provides plenty of jobs and OT to City and NPO workers.

    You didn’t really think that spending was to benefit the poor, did you?

  2. Wow – Supervisor Sheehy is finally awake! How about we work on the core issues? The homeless and drug addicted are terrorizing his district!

  3. By having no way of shutting down chop shops, we’ve now opened them up to gang protection, rackets. “Hairball” camp comes to mind. Two choppers, 3 gangsters who dont live there, but scare people off. They can also be seen taking the bikes presumably to sell elsewhere.

    By not having a way for SFPD to shut down said shops, we open the most vulnerable up to gang intimidation, exploitation etc…. That’s way worse than any “exploitation” by the city.

    This isn’t about shutting down homeless camps. It really should be about public safety for the homeless and cyclists. Protect your people from gangs. Pass the chop shop legislation. Let SFPD take action.

  4. Remember when the police raided that camp down in SOMA and discovered hundreds of stolen bicycles as well as a dog someone stole from in front of Rainbow Grocery? I guarantee you the owner of those bikes, not to mention that poor dog, felt the efforts of the police weren’t “misplaced” or “useless.” We excuse WAY too much criminality in this city.

  5. It’s fascinating how you’re worried this bill will cost “piles of money” without expressing the same concern about San Francisco’s annual $400 million expenditure on services for the homeless. An expenditure, I might add, for which efficacy has never been established.

  6. re: Care-not-cash – who sez it is a complete waste? Thousands have been housed. But it has put a dent in BART fares, since ppl stopped coming over from Oakland to collect each month.

    Anyway, I’m kinda with you, in that the legis seems lame. At the same time, the Supes are charged with overseeing the Administration. And I see nothing wrong in looking into lack of bike theft enforcement (along with lack of enforcement of Sit-Lie). We should really find out what the cops are doing, and why they aren’t taking care of this. Then maybe we’ll find a way to knock off both the organized gangs, and the ppl they get their supply from.

    However, I just don’t buy the argument that these are ‘po’ folks’ who just have a few extra bikes around. And why is it that legis seems to be pushed these days by KCBS investigations? What are the 6-figure Supe
    s (and there 3 aides) doing all year?

  7. Care not Cash was “popular” and now years later, proven to be a complete waste of resources, time and money. Sit/Lie was “popular” too and wholly ineffective. Why write and enact truly bad legislation? We elect supervisors to be creative problem solvers and good listeners. And when they move to draft and enact legislation it should be carefully crafted. This legislation is lame and appears to be Sheehy’s way of trying to score points with red meat voters.

  8. This isn’t really substantive legislation, but it is popular, and that is all that really matters.

  9. Looks like Sheehy is trying to score some low hanging votes in his upcoming race with Mandelman–political postures without thoughtful solutions for chronic problems. We don’t have the $$ for the police to spend time enforcing this; it will create even more bureaucratic red tape. Inventorying, warehousing and tracking the confiscated bicycles would take untold hours and piles of $. Lame.

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