The city of Santa Cruz, CA council will once again try to tackle the persistent problem of what to do with all of the abandoned bikes the city collects.
(And yes, believe it or not, there’s actually controversy about this.)
The Santa Cruz PD property room overflows with hundreds of abandoned and stolen bikes the department recovers each year. They have so many that they’ve converted part of their police parking lot into a bike storage facility, and they add a dozen more bikes to the pile every single week. If the bikes cannot be returned to an owner after 90 days, the city disposes of the bikes as directed by the City Manager. Per city code, they can either be auctioned off or donated to a local non-profit for their use.
Before last year, the city donated abandoned bikes to the Santa Cruz Bike Church, which in turn used spare parts for their community repair shop and fixed up usable bikes for donation to youth groups such as Santa Cruz Green Ways to School and Ecology Action’s Bike Smart program. I’ve seen several happy youth riding donated bikes around the county. This teen girl, for example, is learning basic bike maintenance at the Bike Church on her donated bicycle.
After some shenanigans and controversy in 2012 involving the for-profit Bike Dojo, the city people handling the used bikes got tired of the hassle. A ton of staff time and city resources were needed to deal with transferring the bicycles from the property yard to whoever claims them, and (reading between the lines here so I’m speculating) bikes apparently weren’t always picked up in a timely manner. Beginning last year, the city began selling the bikes through The Property Room, an online auctioneer that specializes in disposing of recovered property. According to city staff, Property Room representatives pick up, store, process, market and sell unclaimed bicycles of all conditions with minimal city staff assistance. In other words, they seem professional about it, plus the city receives about $600 monthly from the sale of these bikes.
The choice to auction off the bikes or give them to a non-profit for their use is under the City Manager’s discretion. Given the public commentary about this issue in Santa Cruz, however, city staff have asked City Council for their direction, and propose three options:
- Re-instate the old distribution program. A non-profit would be selected to receive property room bicycles on a quarterly basis. The distributor will, in turn, coordinate donations with qualified youth serving non-profits and charities. This distributor will be required to verify that bikes are distributed per city guidelines. Santa Cruz groups serving at-risk youth like this option, as do those who have been involved in bike distribution.
- Continue selling through PropertyRoom.com. From the city staff report on this option: “They take bikes of all conditions, they do not require SCPD staff assistance to transition bikes from City property to Property Room staff, and they maintain all records of auctions. Property Room maintains a portion of all auctions and provides the remainder to the City. This option, while providing a meaningful amount of revenue for youth serving non-profits or charities, fails to provide bicycles to at-risk-youth in Santa Cruz. As noted above, donated bicycles provide numerous benefits to youth who otherwise would be without one. It could be argued that this option is not the most effective use of surplus bikes, as much of the benefit is not felt locally.”
- Teen Center distribution program and online auctioning. Good bikes are distributed through the city Teen Center, using city staff. PropertyRoom.com takes the leftovers for auction.
This is item is number 14 on the agenda for Tuesday, January 28, 2014. The City Council meeting begins at 2:30 PM in council chambers at 809 Center Street. The first 10 items are the consent agenda (read “rubber stamp”), agenda item 11 is to amend city code regarding registration of hotel guests, number 12 is a drought declaration that should be a quickie except everybody will use this as an opportunity to grandstand about the desalination plant, and 13 on the agenda is a pro forma approval to sell an eight acre plot in Scotts Valley owned by the city of Santa Cruz to the Scotts Valley Town Center developer..
You can read much more on the bike distribution plan from the city council agenda page. Civinomics covers the issue as well (and illustrated with a photo of a Delaveaga student who received one of these donated bikes shot by Yours Truly).
After the afternoon session, city council recesses for a second public hearing meeting at 7 PM. At this evening session, council will consider for approval the Ocean Street Plan, which is a plan to “revitalize the Ocean Street corridor and create a vibrant gateway to Santa Cruz that reflects the city’s unique character.” I’ll try to write on the Ocean Street Plan this evening.
If you go back a couple of decades, they used to have in-person police auctions. Those raised substantially more than the current on-line auctions, but were probably more of a hassle. They included surplus government property (like old police cars) as well as unclaimed recovered bikes.