Call to Action issued by La Jollans in DecoBike fight: Opponents asked to write City Council, Mayor's office

Concerned residents from La Jolla, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach gathered at La Jolla Community Center Jan. 30 to unanimously speak out against DecoBike, the City’s bike share program. DecoBike kiosks have not been installed in 92037, but the plan is to place 12-14 stands throughout La Jolla, Bird Rock and La Jolla Shores. The installation date is pending. 

Led by Cindy Greatrex, president of La Jolla Community Planning Association, and Debbie Watkins of the Mission Beach Precise Planning Committee, the meeting included a presentation outlining what DecoBike is, why it is not appropriate for La Jolla, how it has impacted communities where its kiosks have been installed, why these communities oppose it, and where opposition organizers would like to go from here. 

The presentation is available by e-mailing: cindy.greatrex@diplomats.com

Meeting attendees and others who do not want DecoBike in La Jolla, were encouraged to write their concerns to each San Diego City Council member, to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and sign a soon-to-be-circulated petition. Some attendees suggested using the hashtag #nodecobike in social media posts on the topic. 

Two representatives from District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry’s office were on hand to hear the public outcry, along with a representative from District 2 City Council member Lori Zapf’s office. If there was representation from DecoBike, its supporters, or the Mayor’s office, they did not make their presence known. 

Bike share plan history

The City of San Diego’s 2013 Bicycle Master Plan calls for “a bikesharing program to offer cyclists the opportunity to rent a bicycle from an unattended docking station, ride it wherever they want within the network, and return it to any station with an open dock.” To meet the terms of this plan, the City entered into a Corporate Partnership Agreement in 2013 with DecoBike LLC, which provided approximately $8 million in infrastructure investment in return for the ability to sell advertising on the bikes and kiosks.

San Diego receives a commission on the gross advertising and bike rental revenues. DecoBike receives no public funds. 

Listing the reasons DecoBike does not work in San Diego (and specifically La Jolla), Greatrex said the DecoBike company: 1) has a series of negative reviews online (ranging from complaints about multiple credit card charges, issues with getting bikes in and out of kiosks, and difficulty reaching customer service); 2) does not provide locks or helmets to its users; 3) offers bikes that are not recommended for the hilly topography found in La Jolla; and 4) is not practical as a non-car alternative because there is no large public transit stations in La Jolla. 

Among other problems, several meeting attendees cited DecoBike’s perceived lack of community consideration, which has led to the bike rental kiosks blocking views in Pacific Beach and competing with local, tax-paying bike rental businesses near Mission Beach. 

Watkins said, “A (San Diego) Grand Jury report regarding DecoBikes was produced May 19, 2016. DecoBike went before the Grand Jury and said we need to tap into the coastal communities … and the jury came back and found that in order to be financially successful, DecoBike needed kiosks in tourist areas, including beach communities. The Grand Jury report also demanded community outreach, and that request has been ignored.” 

Brian Curry, president of the Pacific Beach Community Planning Committee, said when it came for the City to install more than a dozen kiosks, it presented the plans to his group and negotiations were never considered. “We gave them suggestions as to where they could go, but then they went dark, and then suddenly they put up these kiosks in locations that were in direct competition with local small businesses.

“When they came before us again, this time with locations on the boardwalk, we all voted against it and wrote to our City officials. We were told the kiosks might go in the following Monday, or a few weeks down the line. Instead, they snuck out one early morning that week and put two on the boardwalk, despite all the input (against it) they had from us,” Curry reported.

Soon after the boardwalk kiosks were in place, concerned PB residents scheduled a meeting with the City. “When they agreed to meet with us, we saw it as an olive branch … but we noticed the City and DecoBike were on one side of the table, and we were on the other. We asked ‘Who is representing us here?’’ The public has been ignored. We made the mistake of letting them in, now we want them out.” 

By embedding these kiosks against community wishes, Curry said, it gives the impression that the City “is not listening to us,” — a sentiment echoed by others throughout the evening. (Reporter’s note: Although not in attendance, Council member Bry later e-mailed La Jolla Light stating, “I understand that there are many concerns in the community regarding the installation of DecoBikes. Before any plans for a future site move forward, I will work to ensure that the City listens to the residents of District 1 and addresses their concerns.”

Hopeful for a different result, and that a dialogue in a well-attended public forum would be “hard to ignore,” Greatrex added she has repeatedly requested presentations about DecoBike and its proposed locations, but “no one has gotten back to us in three months.” City spokesperson Katie Keach previously told La Jolla Light presentations were planned “starting in February,” but she could not specify when or where. 

At the end of the presentation, a seven-point list of requests was shown that will be forwarded to the City.

The requests were for: 1) a moratorium on any future DecoBike expansion into coastal communities; 2) DecoBike to install kiosks at transit locations and shopping areas, in school corridors and communities that have requested installations before more kiosks are located and installed in coastal communities; 3) local bike rental businesses to be included in the City’s Bicycle Master Plan and Climate Action Plan; 4) adherence to the Grand Jury report for community discussion on unsuccessful charging stations in Pacific Beach and removal of kiosks on the boardwalk; 5) review of alternate climate control strategies; 6) review of requests made by City Heights and North Park, which have public transportation, for DecoBike use between transportation hubs; and 7) to note that the agreement between DecoBike and the City is for two, five-year options and the City does not have to exercise its option at the end of year five. 

“The City can release DecoBike as a partner, send out another Request for Proposal and find a different bike-share program that will work with small businesses and the citizens of San Diego … not just rent bikes to tourists,” Greatrex elaborated. “But the City Council has to be involved. They voted DecoBike in, they can vote them out.”

Curry stressed the importance of writing to the Mayor. “We have strong-mayor form of government. If he says something is not going to happen, it’s not going to happen.”

Watkins added that a petition was started in Pacific Beach to remove the kiosks on the boardwalk, and another would be created to prevent kiosks from coming to La Jolla. The petitions will be sent out via email, possibly with e-mailable and printable versions, and distributed to community groups for signatures.

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