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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 2:59 am | Fair 49º

 
 
 
 

Goleta City Council Votes Unanimously to Ban Motorized Scooters

Enforcement officers will begin impounding the scooters and then charge the companies $196 each to retrieve them

Spike Moore, a Goleta resident Click to view larger
Spike Moore, a Goleta resident, spoke in opposition to scooters, saying they are an abuse of public property. He supported the council’s ban. Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Bye-bye, Bird.

Three months after motorized scooters invaded Goleta, the City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night for an emergency ordinance to kick the vehicles to the curb. 

Beginning immediately, Goleta enforcement officers will impound the scooters. The city will charge the companies $196 each to retrieve them.

"They exploded like cockroaches," said Goleta resident Kathleen Ventura. "I hope you completely remove these from our community."

The Bird and Lime scooters are now banned from the sidewalks and public right of way, and from being offered for use anywhere in the city. 

Hundreds of scooters have blanketed Goleta since September. As many as six, but often four, scooters have covered dozens of corners throughout the city. They have also spilled over into residential neighborhoods. 

Many of the scooters can be seen blocking the sidewalks and right of way, often turned over on their side, and the city has been deluged with safety complaints about them from residents. 

Bird and Lime, well-funded venture capital companies, have made it a practice throughout the country to launch the scooters in communities without coordinating with the local governments. The proliferation of scooters has sparked a new industry of so-called "chargers" and "juicers" who collect the vehicles at night, charge them at their homes, and then redistribute them throughout the city in the morning.

Tuesday night, dozens of residents spoke in opposition to the scooters, blasting the companies for using the public right of way for a private purpose. The meeting, which featured a standing room only crowd, lasted three hours. More than 100 people emailed public comments to the council on the matter and 34 people filled out speaker slips to talk during the meeting. 

Lys Mendez Palomo Click to view larger
Bird senior manager of government relations Lys Mendez Palomo spoke in support of Bird scooters at Tuesday night’s council meeting. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

"Dumping hundreds of scooters on public property without once contacting local government agencies is not good stewardship," said Robert Perry, director of energy research at the World Business Academy. "Goleta is not a case of first instance. They went to Santa Barbara and got thrown out, and they went to UCSB and got thrown out. Someone is not learning here." 

The city of Santa Barbara put a ban on the scooters while it considered an ordinance regulating the vehicles. UCSB banned the scooters on its campus. 

Jean Blois, a former Goleta councilwoman, said she enjoys living in Goleta because of the quality of life for elderly people. 

"I am amazed that any company would come in and make use of our public right of way without any contact with the city," Blois said. "I am frankly dumbfounded. I really question the plans of said companies. I urge you to adopt the emergency ordinance."

The speakers shared story after story of their observations of people riding the scooters without helmets, running red lights and blocking the public right of way. 

Councilman Stuart Kasdin compared the spread of the scooters to the movie "Outbreak," where Donald Sutherland's character is showing how a virus is spreading across the United States. 

"It seemed like the same model," Kasdin joked, about the scooters. 

He added that the scooters have been spread "promiscuously" throughout town without regard to whether people want them.

"The way it has been done so far has been unacceptable," said Kasdin, adding that Goleta will figure out a plan that works best for the city, not the private companies. 

Goleta resident Spike Moore said the scooters are a disaster.

"Scooters — you can't regulate them," he said. "They are out of control."

He was offended that these multimillion-dollar companies were profiting from public sidewalks. 

"If I put a table on the sidewalk and sold used jewelry and artifacts, I'd get busted, but they don't get busted," Moore said.

Mark Ingalls, property manager for the Camino Real Marketplace, said the shopping center has agreed to ban the scooters on its property because of the safety issues they cause. 

Mariah Clegg, a doctoral student at UCSB, called the scooter companies' claims that they are environmental friendly "a pack of lies."

Clegg said the scooters are not an alternative to people driving cars.

"They are an alternative to walking and biking, and those are activities we need more of," said Clegg, who also noted that the scooters create immense e-waste. 

The council members expressed contempt for the companies launching the scooters without asking the city first. 

"I am not happy that two companies decided that it was OK to dump over 400 scooters in our community without asking what the rules and regulations are," Councilman Roger Aceves said. 

He said if he wanted to place an ice cream cart on the sidewalk, he would need to get a permit.

"It was attack of the Birds," Aceves said. "We have Birds everywhere."

The companies, he said, have dropped the scooters in front of the Elks Lodge.

"I can tell you there is no Elks member who is going to drive a scooter," Aceves said. "Everywhere you go, there they are."

Aceves said it was an unacceptable business practice.

"We have 400 scooters in our community with no permission and no permits," Aceves said. "What other business would we allow to do that?"

A spokeswoman for Bird, Lys Mendez Palomo, claimed there were only 100 to 200 scooters in Goleta, a statement that was laughed at by the audience. She said they move into communities "where there is an interest for service."

"We want to work with Goleta to find a productive way forward that doesn't take these transportation options away from residents," Mendez Palomo said. 

Councilman Kyle Richards said he doesn't think that scooters are that cheap. He also doubts that they are actually getting people out of their cars. 

"I spent like $10 bucks on a trip that I would have rode my bike on," Richards said. 

Richards also said the scooters are "not 100 percent green" because people are driving around town picking them up to charge them. 

"All of the vehicles are creating car trips in the morning and evening," Richards said. "We are putting more cars on the road. The city has the responsibility for the safety and welfare of our residents. The city needs to be responsible for reacting to this concern."

Richards urged the council to work regionally on a plan that possibly allows regulated scooters in the future. 

Several people, many of them alternative transportation activists and chargers who make money off the scooters, also spoke in support of motorized vehicles.

Richard Foster said he couldn't blame companies for not seeking public permission because government doesn't function quickly.

He said the scooters shouldn't be banned just because some people mis-use them. 

"If you want to find people doing stupid stuff, there are a lot of stupid people in Goleta," Foster said. "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is a viable form of transportation."

Councilman Michael Bennett noted that Uber is talking to Bird about acquiring the company. He said these scooters are fooling people into thinking they are an environmental solution. 

"I don't think it has anything to do with ecology or the green movement other than the green dollars," Bennett said. 

Bennett said he observed people in wheelchairs not be able to travel on the sidewalk on Calle Real because the Bird scooters were blocking the sidewalk. The people in the wheelchairs were forced to turn around and their journey ended. 

"To me that is really unconscionable," Bennett said. "These have become so burdensome in our community."

Mayor Paula Perotte put it bluntly.

"You barged in and caused havoc in our city," she said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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