San Francisco is seemingly out of reach of achieving its goal of a 50 percent reduction in stolen bicycles by next year, and opponents of a proposed law cracking down on bike “chop shops” don’t believe this latest effort to curb the thefts will make a difference.
In 2013, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation implementing a goal to reduce bike thefts by 50 percent by August 2018, using the 817 reported actual or attempted bicycle thefts in 2012 as the baseline. City officials at the time said that number was just a fraction of the actual thefts and estimated the thefts at 4,085 with a value of $4.6 million.
Still, using that baseline, San Francisco is not on pace to hit that target.
In 2016, there were 780 bike thefts with a value of about $1 million, according to data provided to the San Francisco Examiner by the San Francisco Police Department. More than half of the reported thefts were from bikes stolen by people who broke into garages, homes and apartments.
On Monday, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy succeeded in pushing forward San Francisco’s latest effort to combat bike theft with his legislation that would explicitly prohibit the operation of chop shops and authorize the Police Department to seize any bicycles or bicycle parts from people operating them and issue them an administrative citation without a financial penalty. They could reclaim the parts later if they can prove they are the rightful owner, such as providing photographic evidence, a bill of sale, the serial number or signing a sworn affidavit.
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The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee voted 2-1 to send the legislation to the full board for a vote next week. Supervisor Aaron Peskin opposed the legislation, while supervisors Mark Farrell and Katy Tang supported it.
But the hearing exposed a sharp divide over the proposed law.
“Real and urgent solutions to the problem of bike theft are needed,” wrote Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in a letter to the board opposing the legislation.
“Unfortunately, Supervisor Sheehy’s proposed ordinance targeting ‘chop shops’ does not meet that bar,” Wiedenmeier continued in the letter. “Instead, it focuses resources on the most visible symptoms of the problem without addressing their cause.”
Members of the Coalition on Homelessness argued the proposal would lead to increased harassment of homeless residents while not reducing bike theft.
“This bill is not going to decrease bike theft, but it is just going to confiscate the property without probable cause for poor people,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition On Homelessness.
But Carolyn Thomas, a Mission District resident, said she supports the proposal.
“I am not a heartless bastard,” she said, adding that the stolen bikes are part of a larger drug trade industry. “This isn’t some guy selling strawberries from the back of his truck. These aren’t flower pots on the sidewalks.”
The definition of “chop shops” in the legislation is five or more bicycles, a bicycle frame with the gear cables or brake cables cut, three or more bicycles with missing bicycle parts or five or more bicycle parts.
Sheehy, who is running for election in June 2018 against the more progressive challenger Rafael Mandelman, rejected the allegation that the law would criminalize homeless residents.
“This is not about criminalizing people,” Sheehy said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is that OK to have our kids walk down the streets with us and see bikes, many of them have been stolen, being taken apart, reassembled and then traded for drugs and then see people put needles in their arms?’ ”
Peskin, who said that behavior is already illegal and expressed concerns about the presumption of guilt, responded to Sheehy’s remarks.
“Drugs are procured with money, drugs are procured with all sorts of things,” Peskin said. “If this is a war on drugs, then this is a different thing. I thought that this was a war on bicycle theft. I would like to declare war on bicycle theft.”
In 2013, as part of the bike theft reduction goal, The City established through the nonprofit San Francisco SAFE, Inc., a volunteer bike registration program that launched in 2014. The police check the registry after recovering stolen bicycles. As of Monday, 13,000 bikes had been registered and there were 260 active reports of bikes stolen, according to SF SAFE executive director Sarah Burton.