Cruel Chop Shop Legislation Slated for Full Board Vote

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Photo: Jessica Christian, SF Examiner.

The Coalition on Homelessness is opposed to proposed amended legislation by District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, entitled “Bicycle Chop Shops.” Proposed in February, the ordinance was passed out of the Land Use and Transportation Committee and is scheduled for a full vote on October 3rd. This is an ordinance that would amend the Public Works code to prohibit the taking apart or rebuilding of bikes, possessing bike parts, or selling bike parts in public sidewalks, and allows for notice of violation, impound fees, and the seizure of those parts. While Sheehy claims that the legislation intends to reduce bike theft, the Coalition does not believe that it will do this at all, and only target poor and homeless people with bike parts in the public. The new amended version of this legislation, reviewed in late September, is not a significant improvement.

We are deeply disturbed by this legislation, because while attempting to address the very troubling issue of bicycle theft, it instead panders to the prejudicial premise that all those who live outdoors and own multiple bikes and/or parts must have stolen that property, while failing to reduce bike theft. Much like stop and frisk – it assumes guilt without cause – and relies on profiling.

We believe the real impetus of this legislation is optic frustration with tents, and related bike parts which represent an all too harsh symbol of abject poverty.

The reality is that recycling bike parts is one of the few alternative economic venues for impoverished people to make a living. Destitute people receive donated bike parts, find parts in dumpsters and various locations, trade parts and are able to use their bike skills to repair bikes, build bikes and sell them for life sustaining income. They often don’t have means to sell their wares on places like Craig’s List. Of course, some unhoused people engage in theft, as do some housed community members, but most of this economy is honest recycling. This legislation assumes that if you are unhoused and engaging in this element of the economy, you are presumed guilty of theft.

Similarly many avid housed and unhoused bicyclists own multiple bicycles that can be used for varying leisure and practical purposes. Avid cyclists collect accessories to decorate and improve their property. This ordinance allows the confiscation of property simply because the individual is both homeless (forced by destitution into “open air”), and has either five or more bicycle parts, five or more bicycles,three bikes with missing parts, or one frame with cut cables. We believe this ordinance will violate unhoused people’s’ property rights, simply because they are destitute.

California law presumes that a person who possesses an item is its rightful owner. This proposed legislation categorically authorizes the Department of Public Works (DPW) to impound property without probable cause that bike items are stolen. There is case law to this extent, and we believe this ordinance violates the 4th Amendment under People v. Williams, 145 Cal. App. 4th 756, 762 (2006) and Miranda v. City of Cornelius, 429 F.3d 858 (9th Cir. 200five). Penal Code 836.five authorizes arrests, not seizures of property; the legal basis for this is not clear. DPW is not equipped to decide if one of the exceptions applies, and what the appropriate action is.

This legislation would result in the frequent confiscation of property from rightful owners, simply because they are destitute and therefore presumed to be thieves. In a truly Orwellian twist, the only way homeless rightful owners could get their property back is to either prove that they did not have multiple bike parts outdoors or to pay an impound fee, while housed people could prove ownership and have their impound fees waived.  There is no means in this legislation for homeless people to prove ownership to avoid confiscation, or to get rightful property back for free.

(d) A person who has received a notice of violation may retrieve the seized items 30 days after the date of the notice, upon payment of an impound fee equal to the actual cost to Public Works of removal and storage. After 30 days have elapsed, if the recipient of the notice has not yet requested to retrieve the items, and another person requests the items on the basis of their lawful ownership of the items and provides Public Works reliable supporting evidence for their claim of ownership (including. but not limited to, video or photographic evidence, a bill of sale, the correct serial number) that Public Works finds accurate, then Public Works shall return the items to that person at no charge.

The hearing process must be requested in writing and there is no means for homeless individuals to find out when the hearing date is, all of which is very difficult for unhoused individuals to navigate. Homeless people often suffer from disabilities, including mental health issues, that impact their functioning, and would make it an unfair hardship.  The hearing itself is not measuring rightful ownership but of Section 5101 or whether they violated the policy of prohibiting the taking apart or rebuilding of bikes, having bike parts, or selling bike parts in public sidewalks or rightways.  It is not a determination of ownership.

“If the hearing officer concludes that the City failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the violation of Section 5101 described in the notice occurred, Public Works shall immediately rescind the notice and return any seized items at no charge.”

The legislation conflicts with current DPW property policy as developed by Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights, the ACLU and the City Attorney. DPW property policy states that DPW shall not confiscate property that is claimed, and unclaimed property must be bagged and tagged, and retrieved for free.  In that policy, the notice must be given before property is confiscated, not at the same time.  The storage time also conflicts, which should be 90, not 60 days.

There are many areas of this legislation that reveal its prejudicial nature.  It targets only “open air” markets, as opposed to the exact same activity by a housed person, who is exempt.  It refers to right of ways, but exempts housed people from the same law if items are sold on their own property.

In sum, the Coalition on Homelessness strongly opposes this legislation. We are concerned about bike theft, but do not believe this legislation deters theft. We feel it only punishes indigent people for daring to scrape out a living in this city and paints a powerful image of the destitute worker as thief, without ever bothering to prove their guilt.