City staff is recommending an emergency ordinance to migrate Bird Scooters off sidewalks in Santa Monica and onto private property.

The Council will debate an ordinance Tuesday that will prohibit offering or displaying a “shared mobility device” from the public right-of-way or public property without City authorization. Under the proposed law any vehicles, including Bird scooters, left on the sidewalk would be subject to immediate impounding.

“Urgent regulatory actions are necessary to protect public health and safety,” said a recent report by Salvador Valles, the assistant director of planning and community development for Santa Monica.

City staff recommends an impound fee of $60 per scooter and administrative fines of $500 to $1000 for violating the law. According to the report, the city has already been collecting scooters from the sidewalk.

“Although staff has recently impounded devices, such as scooters operated by Bird Ride’s, Inc, no impound fee currently exists making these efforts ineffective,” the report said. The ordinance is worded to limit criminal liability on the part of users. Instead, companies that display or offer the scooters for rent would have to pay up for misdemeanor penalties.

In order to keep their business in the city, Bird would instead need to partner with local businesses and parking lots where users would park their scooters at the end of a ride. The company currently operates on an ad-hoc basis where users can simply leave the electric scooters on street corners and sidewalks.

While this ordinance focuses on the company, riders can still get tickets from the police department for not wearing a helmet, riding on the sidewalk or without a license. The California Vehicle Code prohibits riding motorized scooters on sidewalks or the beach bike path.

While the emergency ordinance is in effect, the city would establish a pilot program to assist with the development of a regulatory framework for dockless rental companies like Bird. City staff wants to contract with a third party to help enforce the law by removing scooters from the street.

Just two weeks ago Bird took a plea deal with the city attorney’s office to accept responsibility for violating local law and pay more than $306,000 in fines and investigative costs. The city said a significant portion of the fines would go to a broad public safety campaign for Vision Zero, the City Council’s goal of eliminating deaths and significant injuries from traffic collisions.

Bird has recently reduced the top speed of the scooters from 22 to 15 miles per hour, instituted a free helmet service and improved their app security to ensure only those with a valid license can register to ride.

The discussion on an emergency ordinance to control Bird’s operations comes just a week after the City Council voiced strong support for policies to get more commuters out of cars.

“I think we have a tendency to react.. somewhat negatively to disruption, sort of the conversation we had around Uber and Lyft a year ago was actually quite negative,” said Mayor Pro-Tempore Gleam Davis during last Tuesday’s mobility discussion. “That’s not going to stop these disruptors so we darn well better adjust our attitude and say…’we’re going to work with you.’”

Davis supports more car-free lanes in the City for bikes and electric scooters. She encouraged staff to be both bold and nimble. Recent data suggests traffic has worsened throughout Southern California over the last fifteen years, with the percentage of households without cars falling thirty percent, according to the Southern California Association of Governments. The increased congestion has lengthened commute times.

“We welcome disruption,” Davis said. “We want to be disrupted but you have to work with us.”

The City Council will hear from the public and discuss the emergency ordinance Tuesday, March 6, at 5:30 p.m. inside City Hall Council Chambers 1685 Main Street. The Council will enter closed session for legal discussions before moving on to public items.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press