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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Santa Cruz Indymedia | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services
City Bicycle Program Dysfunction Continues
For years the City used to give away unclaimed bicycles to youth in need through any qualified nonprofit, with the Bike Church hosting the distributions. In 2012 the City secretly terminated the program, with bikes going for a while to a for-profit business, later being auctioned off in LA. Responding to public pressure, City Council agreed to reinstate distributions to youth, but schemed to keep the Bike Church out of the picture. Ironically, the new program managers are having a hard time and asking the Bike Church for help.
Dear Council members,
While volunteering at the Bike Church yesterday, I received a phone call from someone at the Teen Center, saying they had a bunch of bikes donated and wanted to know if any of our volunteers could come help them assess the bikes for safety, and for what kind of repairs they might need. Presumably, these are the same City bikes that the Bike Church used to distribute from our site, with our mechanics helping representatives of the other nonprofits to find the best-working bikes, and to carry out minor repairs and adjustments.
After all the secret changes, deceptions, and scheming by the prior Council, leading at some point to all the bikes being sold at auctions in Los Angeles, we were assured that bikes would be again going to youth through the Teen Center. But from what information we can gather, it has seemed clear that far fewer bikes are getting to youth compared to the period under Bike Church management. And now, predictably, Teen Center staff (who are not bicycle mechanics) are feeling overwhelmed and/or unqualified.
What I told the woman at the Teen Center is that we need to focus our volunteer hours on keeping our shop open, but that we're here to serve and anyone including their staff are welcome to come down to our site and get help.
What I want to say to you is that this whole episode has been one ridiculous example of government dysfunction. It's pretty simple, folks: the City has hundreds of bikes every year that it needs to get rid of, and they're hardly worth anything in cash, but very valuable to poor families who may not otherwise be able to get bikes for their kids. The community overwhelmingly loves this program and supports the Bike Church; it costs you practically nothing; and all the City's scheming on such a simple issue is making a mockery of government. If all your politicking is so disruptive that the City's trash can't even get to kids who can use it, something needs to change.
PS For the benefit of our newer Council members (congrats!), in case you are not familiar with this issue here is some background information:
Starting in 1996, the City decided that because the unclaimed bicycles were generally of low value and/or in serious disrepair, it was not worthwhile to auction them as is common practice for surplus property. Instead, bikes would be given to youth in need, through distributions open to any nonprofit in the City. Sales of bikes were strictly forbidden, and all participating organizations had to prove their non-profit status.
After being administered by the SCPD for years with ups and downs, the program lapsed in 2007 with bikes going instead to the landfill. At that point, the Bike Church arranged with the City to take on the program's administration, hosting the distributions on our site and helping the other nonprofits identify the most-usable bikes and carry out minor repairs and adjustments. At the end, the scraps which no one else wanted were donated to the Bike Church. This arrangement worked well for four years, getting out many hundreds of bikes through about a dozen nonprofit organizations, and a lot of the leftover junk was redistributed for cheap-to-free through our program.
Later, for reasons which still have never been adequately explained, the City secretly canceled this program and arranged instead, in violation of the municipal code, to cut out all the nonprofits that used to participate and give bikes instead to a single for-profit business. The City also apparently gave permission to the business to sell many bicycles which formerly had gone to teens. The sale of bikes was expressly forbidden by the program guidelines, and had never been allowed for the prior 15 years. At the time I asked repeatedly for documentation of the bicycle distributions to the business, and data about how many went to youth and how many were sold, but City staff refused to share any information. We also rallied public support which was nearly unanimous in favor of the old program that the Bike Church had managed.
Eventually, again for reasons never made transparent to the public, the City terminated that unlawful arrangement, but refused to share what was happening with the bikes instead. A Council member later discovered that the bikes were being auctioned off in Los Angeles.
So once again we rallied public pressure and once again demonstrated overwhelmingly that the community supports these bikes going to youth, and supports the Bike Church. Yet the prior Council made the politically-motivated decision to derail the existing process of inviting outside agencies to submit proposals for partnering with the City, instead giving some bikes away through the Teen Center while auctioning others.
As usual, when I've asked for data on the bicycle distributions I have not been given any, but our partnering youth program Green Ways to School has participated and said that the Teen Center's distributions appear to be giving out only a fraction of the volume of bikes that we used to distribute. What happens to the rest of the bikes, I don't know, but presumably they are being auctioned or thrown away, instead of going out to the community.
Please let's bring this ridiculous episode to an end.