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A Year Later, Youth Programs Still Waiting on City Bicycles
Since 1996 the City has distributed unclaimed bicycles to youth in need through nonprofits like the Bike Church and Barrios Unidos. Early last year they abrubptly ended this program and have given bikes instead to a for-profit business called the Bike Dojo, which should not even be allowed under City code to participate in the program, and which has sold many of the bicycles, also in violation of the Municipal Code. Despite admitting these problems, the City continues to distribute bikes to the Bike Dojo while denying access to the nonprofits that used to participate.
Until early last year, unclaimed bicycles at the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) were distributed through local nonprofits to youth in need. Although the program was quite successful, distributing hundreds of bikes through more than a dozen nonprofits and public agencies, the City abruptly ended the program in early 2012. Without notifying prior participants, the City began distributing bicycles to a for-profit business, since which time the original nonprofits have not been invited to participate, and some bicycles have been sold in violation of City policy. Despite admitting these failings, the City has yet to take any action to remedy the situation. Youth and bicycle advocates are calling on the City to immediately reinstate the distribution of unclaimed bicycles for free to youth through partnerships with nonprofit agencies, as required by the Municipal Code.
The City began distributing unclaimed bicycles to youth in 1996. For years the program was administered by the SCPD, sometimes very successfully, while other times only intermittently or not at all. In 2008 distributions had stopped entirely and usable bikes were being sent instead to the landfill. At that time the Bike Church—a nonprofit repair shop and recycling center—stepped in, offering to help manage the program. The Bike Church facilitated City bike distributions for the next four years, getting over 400 free bikes to youth through various nonprofits and schools, and salvaging tons of usable bikes and parts which were not functional enough to give away. Hosting the distributions on their site, the Bike Church was also able to offer assistance with checking bikes over and performing minor repairs.
Despite this successful track record, the City ended its association with the Bike Church in early 2012. Without notifying past participants the City began to distribute the bicycles instead to the Bike Dojo, a for-profit business which, according to the municipal code (SCMC 2.24.120), should not be allowed to participate in the program. Although the Bike Dojo does have a youth program, it is neither a nonprofit nor sponsored by one. Meanwhile, they sold many of the adult-sized bicycles which previously had gone out for free to high school students in need. City staff have confirmed that these sales were made in violation of City policy.
Under the Bike Church's management and for all years prior, City bicycle distributions were open to all interested nonprofits and public agencies. Although many other groups participated as well, the most consistent partners with the Bike Church were Barrios Unidos, Green Ways to School, the Western Service Workers Association, Project Bike Trip's high school repair classes, and the Watsonville Bike Shack. All five of these partners wrote to the City last fall praising the former distribution program and the Bike Church's implementation of it, and asking that it be reinstated. The City has not responded with any substantive actions, but instead continues to distribute bicycles to the Bike Dojo.
It is notable that then-Mayor Don Lane has since apologized to the Bike Church for issuing a statement which in many respects has been proven to be false. Among other things, Lane had asserted that the Bike Dojo's youth program was a nonprofit, and that they were not selling any bikes. City staff later confirmed that the Bike Dojo was selling City bicycles in violation of City code, and that their youth program is not a nonprofit. In addition, they noted that the Bike Dojo has failed to comply with City direction to invite nonprofits to participate, and has not kept records of their bike sales. In spite of all this, the City has continued to give bikes to the Bike Dojo, while denying access to the Bike Church, Barrios Unidos, and all the other organizations that would like to make use of this valuable community resource.
Former participants in the program are calling on the City to immediately reinstate the distribution of unclaimed bicycles to youth through partnerships with nonprofit agencies, as required by the Municipal Code.