Last week at the press conference for the new SAFE Bikes registration program, Leah Shahum, director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, mentioned something intriguing that was coming down the pike: an Unclaimed Bicycle Ordinance. I'd never heard of this, but it sounded like a thoughtful way to make use of the 800-plus stolen bikes sitting in the SFPD warehouse that have never been claimed by their owner.
The Unclaimed Bicycle Ordinance would be an amendment to Police Code Section 1405.1. The law as it stands today says that the SFPD may turn over unclaimed bicycles to the Human Services Agency for "use in programs designed to prevent juvenile delinquency." But the amendment will require that bicycles valued at less than $500 be donated to the Human Services Agency for programs designed to prevent juvenile delinquency or "any program or activity designed to serve low-income or transit dependent populations in San Francisco."
The amendment was already approved by the Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Feb.18 and will now go to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote.
Chema Hernandez Gil, Community Organizer for the SFBC, is sort of the gatekeeper of those unclaimed bikes -- he's the one that helps get them to the people who could really use some transportation. I talked to him about the reclaimed bike program via email.
SFW: The San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco Bike Coalition, and the San Francisco Human Services Agency all work together on a program that reconditions unclaimed recovered stolen bikes, correct? What part does the SFBC play in that process?
CHG: The SF Bicycle Coalition began its Reclaimed Bicycle program in late 2012. Before we became involved, the SFPD and the HSA had an existing program that would provide city-owned bicycles to nonprofits like Pedal Revolution and the Presidio YMCA that had programs dedicated to preventing juvenile delinquency and that had the technical expertise and resources to refurbish them. These limits created a surplus of bicycles that the City was unable to place back into the community.
Having identified this opportunity, we sat down with PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights) and created the Reclaimed Bike program, which emphasized collaborative, cooperative repair of these bicycles and bicycle safety education. We organized a series of events in the Mission called Community Bike Build Convivios and reached out to other organizations, which adopted the model. In collaboration with groups like PODER and POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), we continue to organize community bike builds in the Mission and the Bayview and facilitate other independent bike builds.
SFW: These bikes, I assume, have been held for a long time by the SFPD. But they still auction some property off, so how is it decided which ones are donated?
CHG: The proposed Reclaimed Bike Ordinance indicates all property worth less than $500 must be donated.
SFW: Who fixes up the bikes to get them ready for donation?
CHG: The reclaimed bikes are refurbished by the recipients, community members, and SF Bicycle Coalition members, in collaboration with our technical partners, like SF Yellow Bike Project, Pedal Revolution and the Bike Kitchen.
SFW: Where are they donated or who gets the donated bikes?
CHG: To different parts of the San Francisco, currently mostly the Bayview and the Mission. Our principal constraints are financial (for parts and safety equipment) and identifying community groups willing to organize the Community Bike Builds. Our community partner groups identify individuals that could benefit from having affordable transportation and willing to participate in the Community Bike Build.
SFW: How many bikes have been fixed up and donated so far? Is that number growing since the SFPD seems to have plenty of unclaimed bikes to spare?
CHG: Since we began our Reclaimed Bicycle Program began about 700 bicycles have been processed, with most of them refurbished. Although we would like this number to grow, our current constraints limit the growth potential of this program.
It remains to be seen whether the new SAFE Bikes registration program will be so successful that the reclaimed bike program will run out of bikes -- Morgan St. Clair, who's in charge of that program with SAFE told me that they already have 400 people signed up.
Oh, and as a correction from last week, Officer Matthew Friedman responded to our Facebook commenters: apparently he already posts recovered bikes on Facebook, and Twitter, and SFPD officers actively try to track down owners using serial numbers, but until now, there hasn't been a registry, and people usually fail to report their bikes stolen.
So basically, it's your fault if your bike ends up in the reclaimed bike program, and maybe whoever gets your unclaimed bike will appreciate it more than you.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.