Proposal Aims to Shut Down Bicycle ‘Chop Shops’ in San Francisco

Mark Matthews/NBC Bay Area

The City of San Francisco intends to crack down on bicycle chop shops springing up in homeless camps.

On Tuesday, city supervisors overwhelmingly approved the first reading of a measure to confiscate bikes and parts from people who appear to be running a sidewalk business.

The measure passed 9-2 to allow the Department of Public Works to confiscate bicycles from suspected chop shops -- not because the bikes are stolen, but because they are blocking sidewalks.

At homeless camps all over San Francisco, there are thousands of dollars worth of bikes and bike parts that are being used as a type of street currency.

"It's a quick way of making money," said Oscar Kinney, who has been on the street for years.

Robert Winterstein, who has been homeless for 15 years, estimates 90 percent of bikes are stolen.

"That's what people do around here -- pretty much break into cars or steal bikes," Winterstein said.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy's ordinance would allow the Department of Public Works to confiscate bikes from people who had more than five bikes or bike parts blocking the sidewalk.

"It's about access to a right of way and it's about an illegal business on the sidewalk," Sheehy said.

But even some people who have had their bikes stolen are not on board with going after the homeless.

"I have personally an issue with harassing homeless people that don't necessarily have a place to stay," San Francisco-resident Lee Stafford said.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen pointed the ordinance does not address the problem of stolen bikes -- no one is arrested and there are no fines.

"This legislation does not address that theft at all," Ronen said.

But the measure passed easily on Tuesday. A spokesman for the Bicycle Coalition pointed out the measure is not a silver bullet, but they believe it is a step in the right direction.

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