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Published Sunday, January 19, 2014
On Tuesday, January 28, the Santa Cruz City Council will decide on whether to reinstate the long-standing program of distributing unclaimed bicycles to youth in need. Please let the Council Members know you think this is a valuable program! You can let them know in person at the meeting, or email them at citycouncil [at] cityofsantacruz.com. We don't know yet if the item will be on the 3pm afternoon or the 7pm evening agenda, but will post details as they're available.
Every year the City ends up with hundreds of bikes which are not claimed and must be dealt with. Because the bikes are generally of moderate to low quality and many are in disrepair, they offer little cash value to the City through auctioning. Therefore in 1996 the City began distributing them to youth in need, turning these old bikes into a valuable community resource. The distributions were open to any qualified nonprofit or government agency, and got out many hundreds of bikes to youth who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to own a bicycle.
Although a valuable program, participation varied over the years and sometimes the administration felt like a drain to the SCPD, which in 2008 stopped distributions and began sending bikes instead to the landfill. At that point the nonprofit repair shop the Bike Church approached the City, offering to handle most of the administration of the program. For the next four years, the Bike Church held 16 distributions, getting out 415 bikes through a variety of nonprofits, while salvaging tons of usable material from the scraps that no one else was able to make use of.
In early 2012, the City ended the program without any notification to the Bike Church or other participating groups. Bikes were delivered instead to a for-profit business that did not invite the former nonprofit participants to take any of the bicycles. The five groups that had matched up the most bikes to youth prior to this change—Barrios Unidos, Green Ways to School, Project Bike Trip, Watsonville Bike Shack, and Western Service Workers Association—all wrote letters to the City praising the former program and the Bike Church's management of it, and asking that it be reinstated. However no changes were made at that time.
In August 2013, acknowledging that the municipal code does not allow distributions through a for-profit business, the City suspended distributions entirely. City Manager Bernal stated at that time the intention to invite proposals from nonprofits to partner with the City in renewing the program. However, this plan has not been realized, and bikes are now being auctioned off for the first time since 1996.
Fortunately, the City Council will have the opportunity to vote on this matter on January 28, and we hope they will listen to the overwhelming community support for giving the bikes to youth instead of auctioning them off.
Restore City of Santa Cruz Unclaimed Bike Distribution
People Power Hands Out Free Bikes to Metro Riders