Bike ‘chop shop’ bill advances despite outcry

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy’s legislation for a tougher stance on open-air bicycle “chop shops” passed the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee Monday with a 2-1 vote.

The legislation met with heavy opposition when more than 20 citizens from homeless advocacy groups, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and the Democratic Socialists of America: San Francisco, all argued the legislation would target the homeless and do nothing to actually stop bicycle theft.

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said:

“Bicycle theft is a real problem in the City and County of San Francisco and I am happy to hear that this is being discussed in this chamber. …  If the legislation could be amended to target those who buy and sell in stolen property that would be an ordinance that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition could enthusiastically support, but right now we are not there yet.”

Sheehy’s legislation would allow police to seize bicycles or bicycle parts from anyone operating a “chop shop,” as well as issue an administrative citation.

A chop shop is defined as an outside location where people assemble, disassemble, sell, offer to sell, distribute, or offer to distribute bicycles or parts.  The legislation further details that to be considered a “chop shop,” the location must contain five or more bicycles; a bicycle frame with the gear cables or brake cables cut; three or more bicycles with missing parts; five or more bicycle parts; and bicycles are being dissembled, stripped or sold without a permit.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness said:

“I have about five bikes in my garage. … If I was homeless I would have my property confiscated under this law, simply because I’m poor.”

The legislation would not apply to any person who is operating with a valid business license, if the owner of a bicycle or bicycle part is present during the repair of their single bicycle or bicycle part, if the items are being offered for sale by their owner at a garage sale, or if the items are being used in connection with an event held by a registered non-profit.

The San Francisco Police Department would hold the items and return them to their owners on written request if a person would be able to demonstrate ownership through a bill of sale, photographic evidence, a signed affidavit, or other reliable information.

Sheehy told SFBay he brought forward the legislation after talking with an SFPD officer who said they do not have the tools necessary to do anything about bicycle thefts, and that thefts are only part of the issue, none of which are meant to criminalize the homeless:

“The talking point that this is going to criminalize homelessness is very challenging, because it doesn’t. …  Blocking sidewalks and the dumping of hazardous materials is something that doesn’t get discussed but is a big issue.”

After today’s hearing, the passing of the legislation was met with boos from the public who came to oppose the legislation.

Dayton Andrews, human rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, told SFBay:

“It’s disappointing to see this committee put forward legislation that will add to the marginalization to the homeless. …  In reality there could have been a lot more community input … but addressing the issue in this way only puts pressure on our most vulnerable community and I do not believe that this legislation addresses the real issue, which is crime.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who opposed the legislation, argued The City already has laws that address bike theft, obstruction of sidewalks, illegal vending and the mishandling of hazardous materials.  He compared the legislation to Proposition Q, last years ballot on tent encampments, and that he felt it did not lessen the amount of encampments on the City streets:

“I do think there has been and continues to be a serious problem with bicycle theft. …  The majority of bicycle theft done in San Francisco is done by organized elements and many bicycles are taken out of The City, this is what I heard from SFPD.”

Peskin said that he would want to hear from the SFPD to determine if the legislation is doable.

SFPD has a couple ways to help those get their bike back if stolen.  Bicyclists can register their bike with SAFE; a SFPD partnered program that maintains a registry of bicycles to help get your bike back if it’s stolen.  SFPD also has an anti bike theft Twitter account where they post images of found bikes.