A controversial piece of legislation that opponents fear would further criminalize the city’s homeless population cleared a major hurdle at City Hall Tuesday, as the Board of Supervisors voted 10-2 to support a crackdown on bicycle chop shops.
Under the new legislation, the law would affect those on the streets with five or more bicycles; a bike with the gear cables or brake cables cut; three or more bicycles with missing handlebars, wheels, forks, pedals, cranks, seats, or chains; or five or more bike parts. Exceptions would be made for those with valid business licenses.
The vote came after a heated discussion by supervisors. Sup. Jeff Sheehy claims he introduced the legislation after receiving calls from residents complaining about bike chop shops blocking sidewalks. But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the Coalition on Homelessness adamantly opposed his initial draft, claiming it would not stop the problem of bike theft at its source, and would instead give SFPD more reasons to shake down homeless communities.
After months of back and forth, the amended version now states that the Department of Public Works, not the San Francisco Police Department, will be responsible for enforcement.
Sup. Hilary Ronen, whose district includes the Mission, spoke passionately in opposition to the plan, saying after the meeting ended that the legislation is “meaningless.”
“The legislation approved by the Board of Supervisors today is a watered-down attempt to make it look like City Hall is taking action on bike theft, but instead merely gives DPW the power to confiscate, for only 30 days, stacks of bikes that are blocking the sidewalk,” she says. “Nowhere in the legislation does it provide solutions, give resources, or require city departments to take action on bike theft.”
Instead, she states, the answers to bike theft lie in dedicated SFPD theft units investigating the chop shop rings, and in helping those who live on the streets find stable housing and employment.
“We need to show San Francisco that we care about this epidemic by allocating meaningful resources to stopping bike theft, anything else is just political theater,” she says.
But Sheehy argues that this is not just about bike theft — it’s about maintaining street accessibility. “This legislation is about clearing our sidewalks and not having illegal businesses operating on our sidewalks,” Sheehy said. “Bicycle theft is a different discussion, what I’m trying to do is clear the public right of ways.”
Ronen shot back that the Mission’s latest Navigation Center, which she helped push through in record speed, has reduced tents in the area from more than 200 to around 50 — a better tactic to increasing accessibility, she argued, than attacking chop shops.
But all of these arguments may be moot — it remains to be seen whether Public Works will enforce the messy law, in between their other, more pressing tasks, like removing needles from our streets, keeping our sewer systems clear during the upcoming winter rainstorms, and maintaining the city’s more than 125,000 street trees.