The Board of Supes voted today to allow civilian employees of the city to seize without a warrant bicycles and bike parts that are on the sidewalk.
The bill by Sup. Jeff Sheehy is described as an effort to eliminate “chop shops,” a term that typically describes illegal operations that cut up and sell stolen bicycles and bike parts.
But Sheehy said during debate on the bill that he didn’t see it as an anti-theft measure. In fact, he didn’t even try to argue that bikes that are on the streets where homeless people work on them were mostly stolen.
Instead, he said, the law that allows the Department of Public Works to seize bikes and parts was all about clearing space on the sidewalk. Plus, he said, legitimate businesses are angry that they have to get permits and follow the law while these rogue bike peddlers don’t.
I love hearing that argument come from people who stood by and did nothing while Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber broke the city’s laws for years, making billions of dollars while undermining legit existing businesses. That was okay, because those are tech companies — but a person who is making $20 a day repairing, buying, and selling bikes on the street because they have no place to live should be shut down.
Sup. Hillary Ronen pointed out that the police already have the ability to cite and remove bicycles (or anything else) that is blocking the sidewalk. Now, under the Sheehy bill, DPW staff will be able to move in any time there are more than five bikes or five bicycle parts and confiscate the property.
But as Ronen argued — and the city attorney’s office agreed — all the bill would do is allow DPW to seize the bikes and hold them for 30 days — at which point the owner could just go and get them back. “How is this helpful?” she asked. “The problem is [bike] theft. If poor people are fixing bikes on the street that’s not theft, it’s poverty.”
Sup. Sandra Fewer agreed, saying that she was concerned that the bill “is not about bike theft,” which both Ronen and Fewer agreed is out of control in the city.
Sup. Malia Cohen argued that (contrary to what Sheehy had said) “if you are not doing criminal activity, then you have nothing to worry about.” Actually, not true: If you own a couple of bicycles and have a bunch of bike parts that you have obtained legally, DPW can still seize them — and the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you are the actual owner.
Think about that for a second. How do you prove ownership of a bike — or of spare bike parts? Bicycles aren’t registered with the DMV. I bought mine 20 years ago and I have no idea what ever happened to the receipt. Supporters of the law say you can use photos and video, which is nice if you are housed and have a cell phone and thought to prepare yourself for this moment, but honesty, if someone challenged me to prove ownership of my Trek Mountain Track I would be at a loss. I have no proof. Neither do a lot of people who own older, less expensive bikes.
But if you’re not homeless, no worries. If you are, this is yet another way for the city to hassle you.
And I suspect it will do little to deter bike theft, particularly the theft of expensive bikes, which is done, police sources tell me, by fairly sophisticated operations that don’t chop the bikes up and rebuild them on city streets.
The measure passed 11-2, with only Fewer and Ronen dissenting.
I am pretty sure mayor Lee will sign this bill, and tell the public that it will address bike theft, and it won’t.