Tires and bike frames line the sides of the Cesar Chavez Bike Bridge near San Francisco's Potretro Hill neighborhood Friday, June 30, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SF bicycle ‘chop shop’ crackdown law headed toward approval

San Francisco appears to be heading toward passing a law prohibiting bicycle “chop shops” and empowering city officials to confiscate bikes and their parts.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy’s proposal to prohibit bicycle chop shops on city sidewalks was approved Monday by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee, after it had stalled amid controversy that it was aimed at criminalizing the homeless, wouldn’t reduce bike theft and was tantamount to illegal seizure.

The full board will vote on the legislation next week.

When initially proposed in February, the legislation was sharply criticized for targeting homeless persons. Amendments to the proposal have won over some of those initial critics, and it now appears heading for approval at the full board next week.

Both the Homeless Coalition and the Bicycle Coalition had opposed the earlier version, but the Bicycle Coalition subsequently supported the amended version Monday.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who opposed the initial version, backed the amended version Monday. “This is a kinder and gentler revision to the original legislation,” Peskin said.

He added, “Let’s give it a whirl and see if it works or not.”

The main change is that the proposal relies on the Department of Public Works to enforce the chop shop ban, not the Police Department as initially proposed, which had prompted critics to blast the initial proposal as criminalizing the homeless.

“Although the initial proposal was to lead with our Police Department I am convinced that the Department of Public Works is the most appropriate lead agency,” Sheehy said. “This will be more effective.”

The definition of chop shops are: “(1) five or more bicycles; (2) a bicycle frame with the gear cables or brake cables cut; (3) three or more bicycles with missing bicycle “parts” (defined to mean handlebars, wheels, forks, pedals, cranks, seats, or chains); or (4) five or more bicycle parts.”

Larry Stringer, deputy director of Public Works, said his department supports the legislation.

“We will able to, basically, hopefully reduce some of the clutter on the sidewalk with this legislation, which is one of the things we struggle with on a daily basis,” Stringer said. “As it currently stands we might have a storage capacity issue but other than that we are fine with it.”

DPW would able to confiscate the bikes and bike parts after providing a notice of violation to the person who was in possession of them. That person will have 30 days to reclaim the the bikes or parts if they can prove they are the rightful owner.

Jim Lazarus, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president of public policy, praised the effort.

“I can go through my phone and show you photo after photo of chop shops on Montgomery Street in the heart of the Financial District week after week,” Lazarus said. “These are not people who got parts out of recycling or somebody gave them an old bike. These are people that need help. They are homeless. They got drug addiction problems. They are making their living on city streets with stolen property and making a mess out of those city streets as well.”

He added, “Any step that we can do to help the homeless, short of allowing illegal activity to occur in the street, should be done in The City.”

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, shot back that “just because somebody has bicycle parts doesn’t mean they steal them.”

“What this legislation does is paint a picture of all homeless people as thieves. And, yes, a lot of the chop shops [Lazarus] has seen are people who are engaging in honest recycling,” she said.

As previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, the board set a goal in 2013 to reduce bike thefts by 50 percent by August 2018, using the 817 reported actual or attempted bicycle thefts in 2012 as the baseline. In 2016, there were 780 bike thefts.

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