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City Ends Successful Bicycle Distribution Program in Secret Back-Room Deal
by Steve Schnaar
Monday Sep 3rd, 2012 10:10 AM
Since 1996, the City had made unclaimed bicycles available for nonprofits to give away to youth in need. Earlier this year, without any public process or notification, the SCPD and Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant ended this program, diverting the bikes to the for-profit business the Bike Dojo, which also partners with a business owned by Bryant’s husband (Cruzin Pedicabs), and which is now selling many of the bikes to fund their program, in clear violation of City policy.
In a secret back-room deal, the City of Santa Cruz recently ended a long-standing program to distribute unclaimed bicycles to youth in need. For over fifteen years bikes had been made available for nonprofits to give away to youth, and since 2008 the Bike Church had helped facilitate the program by hosting the distributions on its site, as well as coordinating with other groups and offering mechanical assistance to their representatives.

Earlier this year, without any public process or notification, the SCPD and Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant ended this program, diverting the bikes to the for-profit business the Bike Dojo, which also partners with a business owned by Bryant’s husband (Cruzin Pedicabs), and which is now selling many of the bikes to fund their program, in clear violation of City policy.

The Bike Church collective is asking supporters to call or write City Council to demand a transparent public process, as well as the reinstatement of the former bicycle distribution program: 831-420-5020 or citycouncil [at] cityofsantacruz.com.


The full story:

In 1996, the City decided instead of auctioning off unclaimed bicycles, to work with nonprofits to get them out to youth in need. At times the program faltered, so in early 2008 the Bike Church offered to take on most of the administration, as well as hosting the actual distribution events. Since that time, we've hosted 16 distributions, getting out 415 bicycles through organizations like Barrios Unidos, Green Ways to School, Natural Bridges High, the Walnut Ave Womens' Center, and many more. The least desirable bikes, most of them incomplete or in severe disrepair, were left at the Bike Church, which as a community repair shop and recycling center is uniquely suited to handling a large volume of "bike junk" and redistributing it for cheap-to-free to the community. Indeed, independent from the City's distribution program, the Bike Church has given away over 500 bikes since early 2008, just under half of them going to youth, the rest to adults through our work-exchange program.

Earlier this year, without even the courtesy of an email or a phone call, the SCPD and Hilary Bryant decided to end this distribution and our years-long collaboration. Prior to this change, only registered nonprofits were allowed to participate in the program, and distributions were open to all nonprofits or public agencies in the city. The Bike Church is a registered nonprofit as part of the Santa Cruz Hub For Sustainable Living, is mostly run by volunteer labor, and is a veritable community institution that has been serving our community for over a decade. Now the bikes go to a new for-profit business which uses its youth program to promote memberships at its gym, and whose distribution of City bikes is not open to all schools and nonprofits. Worst of all, the Bike Dojo is now selling some of the bikes which once went out directly to youth, in clear violation of City policy (see City Council agenda for 10/31/2006).

The Bike Church submitted a request under the California Public Records Act but has not received any documents that record a discussion or decision which explain the change. Although Rick Martinez at the SCPD stated in an email to the Bike Church that the program was changed "at the request" of Council member Hilary Bryant, the public records request did not turn up any communications from Bryant at all. Stranger still, an unnamed Council member originally told City Records Coordinator Nydia Patino that she or he had "several dozen" emails on the subject, and delayed the process to see if we really wanted them all. Yet when it came time to hand them over, this unknown Council person then "realized" all those were actually unrelated to City business and sent from a private account (see email exchange below).

The Bike Church is calling for the reinstatement of this valuable program, which helped hundreds of youth and several nonprofits and public agencies, as well as contributing to the supply of used parts by which they are able to keep cycling affordable, and even to offer parts and service to hundreds of people who have no money to pay at all. They also denounce the creep of Washington-style politics, with its insider deals and refusal to hand over public records, into our local government, and urge those in agreement to contact City Council."

########

Following is an email exchange between the City Records Coordinator and a mechanic at the Bike Church seeking public documents:

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Schnaar
Sent: Monday, August 20, 2012 7:43 PM
To: Nydia Patino
Subject: Re: Public Records Request Response

Dear Nydia,

Thanks again for following through on this. I am kind of confused though as to why you called me to ask for more info about what I wanted, saying it would be cumbersome--but now I only get 4 brief emails? Are there other communications between the Bike Dojo and the City (including the SCPD)? If so I would like to see all of them.

Thanks,

Steve Schnaar


August 21, 2012.

Mr. Schnaar:

I apologize if my call was confusing. I initially called you because a Councilmember thought they might have several dozen emails to provide in response to your request. This turned out not to be the case as those emails were under a personal email account and not relevant to any City business.

I had all Councilmembers check for any correspondence responsive to your request, including in their City issued email accounts. The four emails I forwarded to you yesterday is all I received. All other Councilmembers had no responsive records.

The Santa Cruz Police Department already responded with any responsive records to your request on August 17, 2012.

Please let me know if I can be of further service.

Nydia Patiño
Records Coordinator
§Update from the Author
by Steve Schnaar Thursday Sep 6th, 2012 4:43 PM
Dear comment thread readers,

In the fallout of this article and associated emails we sent out, it has become clear we should have been more careful in our wording. While we obviously have many important questions and concerns, some of the accusatory language we used suggests greater certainty than we have documentation to support. We (the Bike Church) are definitely still pursuing this issue, but we also put out the following apology:

The Honorable Hilary Bryant
Santa Cruz City Council
Santa Cruz, California 95060

September 6th, 2012

Dear Hilary,

As a representative of the Bike Church, and the author of a recent article and email sent out by our group, I am writing to offer my sincere apology for the style and tone of these communications. While we obviously feel frustrated about recent changes in the City's bicycle distribution program, we recognize that it was out of line to frame the issue in such a harsh and accusatory way.

Above all, we apologize for the wording which implies that Vice Mayor Bryant had a financial interest in recommending this change. For the record, we have never thought Ms. Bryant or her husband Dave Shuman were directly making money from this program. (Indeed, there is not even much money at stake in the world of used bicycles). We also want to emphasize that our mention of Cruzin' Pedicabs was only to raise the issue of process, and not intended as an attack on their company as somehow connected with or responsible for the termination of the old bicycle distribution program. In fact, as bike mechanics and cyclists we love pedicabs, and are happy to see them springing up all over town.

In addition, we offer our apologies to the Bike Dojo for emphasizing their status as a for-profit business without elaborating about their youth program, which does collaborate with nonprofit agencies. Whatever differences we might have, we appreciate the Bike Dojo's efforts to get kids outside having fun and exercising, and getting bikes to some kids who otherwise would not have access to them.

Finally, we want to extend our apologies to the SCPD including Deputy Police Chief Martinez. We very much appreciate all their years of participating in bicycle distributions, and although we felt confused and frustrated by the unannounced change, we should not have implied any knowledge about their motivations aside from the reasons they gave us.

In conclusion, we take full responsibility for having used language out of proportion to the information at hand, and which did not serve the end of moving us forward with a process of possibly reviewing or revising the bicycle distribution program. We hope some of you are open to engaging with us regarding either this program, or our communications about it.

Sincerely,


Steve Schnaar
Collective Member
The Bike Church