Despite Opposition From Homeless, Bicycle Advocates, 'Chop Shop' Bill Advances

This story comes courtesy of our content partners Bay City News, a local wire service.


Legislation targeting outdoor bicycle "chop shops" met with opposition yesterday from homeless advocacy groups and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who argued that it further criminalizes the homeless while failing to do anything to stop bike theft.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, passed out of the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on a 2-1 vote, with Supervisor Aaron Peskin opposed.

It would allow police to seize bicycles from individuals operating suspected "chop shops," defined as an open-air location where bicycles are being dissembled, stripped or sold without a permit, where an individual has five or more bicycles or assorted parts.

It would not apply to vendors operating with a valid business license or to those offering items for sale on their own property, which means it would apply primarily to those operating in public spaces such as city sidewalks.

Individuals whose bicycles are seized would get an administrative citation, rather than a criminal charge, and would have the opportunity to reclaim their bikes without impound fees if they file an appeal within 30 days and prove the bikes belong to them.

Photo: SFPD/Twitter

At yesterday's hearing, however, homeless advocates lined up to protest a law they said unfairly assumes homeless people who own or repair bicycles are criminals and allows an unconstitutional seizure of property by the police from the poorest members of the community without a hearing.

"I have about five bikes in my garage," Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness said. "If I was homeless I would have my property confiscated under this law, simply because I'm poor."

The law also drew opposition from the Bicycle Coalition.

"Real and urgent solutions to the problem of bike theft are needed," Executive Director Brian Weidenmeier said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

"Unfortunately, Supervisor Sheehy's proposed ordinance targeting 'chop shops' does not meet that bar," he said. "Instead, it focuses resources on the most visible symptoms of the problem without addressing their cause."

Weidenmeier said the coalition would support legislation that targeted the market for stolen bikes and those who buy them to sell in other jurisdictions or that worked to increase theft prevention.

In addition, the city has either failed to implement or abandoned suggestions from a 2013 Budget and Legislative Analyst memo including the creation of a bicycle theft unit within the police department, consistent analysis of bike theft data and more open source information on stolen and recovered bicycles, he said.

Sheehy today said it was not his intent to criminalize the homeless.

"This is not about criminalizing people but dealing with a real issue," he said. "Our sidewalks are obstructed, business is being done on the streets and it's not a legal business."

Peskin said in his conversations with police he had been told that the majority of bike theft was committed by organized groups that move the bikes out of the immediate area. He argued that the city already had laws on the books addressing bike theft, obstruction of sidewalks, illegal vending and mishandling of hazardous materials, among others.

"The question is, do we have the political will?" Peskin said.

—Sara Gaiser

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Despite opposition from homeless bicycle advocates chop shop bill advances