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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 6:10 am | Fair 44º


Santa Barbara Council Shreds Lime Scooter Company, Passes Emergency Ordinance

In a mad scramble to block rogue scooter launches on the streets of Santa Barbara, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an emergency ordinance to regulate the vehicles.

The vote was 6-0. The meeting highlighted Santa Barbara’s unique place in time.

On one hand, the city has courted the millennial generation, in the form of widespread new apartment approvals, embraced AirBnB’s vacation rental explosion and redeveloped the once-artistic Funk Zone into the land of experiential shopping with wine-tasting and boutique clothing shops.

On the other hand, the city is trying to cling to its core as a slow-growth, slow-change community, resisting fly-by-night trends that threaten the city’s charm and sense of community.

These values collided not with the force of an electric scooter, but that of a Mack truck, at City Hall on Tuesday.

Several council members attempted to shame Lime representative Sam Dreiman for his role in Lime’s roque launch of 100 scooters on State Street two weeks.

The scooter industry has been powered by three companies, Lime, Spin and Bird, which have raised more than $250 million in venture capital from Silicon Valley to unleash the vehicles in communities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Millennials and alternative transportation activists say the scooters help with the first- and last-mile, and get people out of their cars. Using an app, users can rent the bike and then drop it off at wherever they need to go.

Lime committed the cardinal sin of dropping the bikes on State Street without the approval of city staff. Unlike a child who ask for forgiveness rather than permission, Lime was told no by the city, and released the bikes anyway, and then inviting Mayor Cathy Murillo to a scooter event.

Councilman Gregg Hart, with an intensity that he hasn’t displayed on the council since his first run in the late 1990s, drilled Dreiman, trying to get him to admit in front of everyone that he knowingly disobeyed city staff with the rogue launch.

“It was a team decision,” Dreiman said. “We understood the city’s intent, but we hoped the data collected would help the city process.”

Councilman Eric Friedman was equally enraged by Lime. He said there was “no trust” between him and Lime.

Friedman said the company broke trust when they launched the devices on the streets after the city told it not to; then they broke trust when they didn’t work quickly to remove the bikes and work with the city afterward, forcing the staff to impound the 100 vehicles.

Then, Dreiman broke trust again when he didn’t give Hart a straight answer.

“Three strikes and you are out,” Friedman told Dreiman. “You came up here and you couldn’t answer the yes-or-no question.”

Community activist Anna Marie Gott urged the council not to bow down to the Silicon Valley-funded companies.

“It looks like the ordinance was written by someone in the scooter lobby, not someone in the city,” Gott said. “Think before you do something. Ask more questions. Be reasonable. This is none of those things. This is a knee jerk reaction to having 100 scooters dumped on State Street.

"Enacting this ordinance is ridiculous. We are rewarding bad behavior.”

Gott said if the city really wants a scooter ordinance, it should wait a year and develop something that is owner-oriented, not shared.

Councilman Randy Rowse said it didn’t make sense to be mad or surprised at Lime’s rogue launch because “this is how they roll. This is what they do.”

Rowse, however, said Santa Barbara doesn’t have to go along with it.

“We are not Seattle, San Francisco or  Santa Monica. We are different towns,” Rowse said.

Hart said he was intrigued by “mobility options,” but Lime’s behavior has left a sour taste in his mouth.

“This was a catastrophic start,” Hart said. “This isn’t the way to do business in Santa Barbara. I am not interested in the city of Santa Barbara being on the cutting edge of this. This is chaotic, unsafe and not well-evolved.”

Passing the ordinance gives the city legal teeth to stop rogue launches. Staff recommends a permit application fee of $5,000 and permit fees of $10,000 plus $100 per scooter to offset the administrative costs of implementation and enforcement.

Staff is recommending a $100 impoundment fee for bikes that are mismanaged. Typically, electric scooters are placed on the sidewalk with onboard indicators to use a phone app to pay for and use them.

The city will accept application from companies to serve Santa Barbara. Companies must submit a proposed service area plan and ensure that customers comply with the rules of road, and know how to properly ride and park the scooters.

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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