DecoBike meeting set: Group asks City to delay putting kiosks in La Jolla

A meeting to discuss the bike-share program known as DecoBike and its planned presence in La Jolla will be held 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30 at La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd. (The Center has offered to provide free valet parking to attendees.) Residents of Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, areas where bike-share kiosks have already been installed, are expected to attend to share their views.

The purpose of the meeting is to collect public comment and demonstrate why La Jolla is not a good market for DecoBike, in a way that will be hard for the City to ignore. Said La Jolla Community Planning Association president Cindy Greatrex, who helped coordinate the gathering, “There are a lot of cons, and we’re scratching our heads looking for pros. We want a moratorium for the City to take another look at this and determine whether this area is the right place to grow the DecoBike program. I don’t know if we can stop it forever, but we want them to stop and take another look, and see if their plan makes sense.”

The City has not been confirmed whether it will send a representative to the meeting.

Over the past year, La Jolla’s various advisory groups have voiced unanimous opposition to DecoBike, citing concerns that include safety issues, the fact that La Jolla’s topography is not conducive to more bicycles, the relinquishing of parking and sidewalk space to kiosks, violation of La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO), a lack of community consideration and more.

“Our point in having the meeting is to show that this program will not effectively help with climate change, which the City says is their goal, because we in La Jolla don’t have the infrastructure to connect DecoBikes to trolleys or other non-car forms of transportation. Other areas have asked for these stations because they have the mass transit to justify it,” Greatrex said. “The City wants to rent these bikes to tourists. This doesn’t seem climate-action oriented, it seems they just want the money.”

Greatrex further argued that the program is not appropriate for tourists. “The bikes do not come with helmets or locks (and tourists do not often bring them when they go on vacation), and are meant for flat surfaces, but La Jolla has hilly streets,” she said. “We’re not against bike-sharing, but we’re advocating for something that makes sense.”

In the surrounding beach neighborhoods, some have called the City’s approach to the kiosk installations “underhanded” and “unresponsive to the needs of the community.”

DecoBike 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 gross advertising and bike rental revenue. DecoBike receives no public funds.

DecoBike also has a presence in areas of Florida and New York. However, in New York, the bike-share program entered into a corporate partnership with Citi Bank, and the bicycles are known as CitiBikes. La Jolla Light inquiries to the City as to whether a similar partnership could occur in San Diego were unanswered.

“An important and unique thing to consider is we have what’s known as a Planned District Ordinance, not every village does, but we do. Under our PDO, it is against the law to place a billboard (in The Village). Each bike station has advertising on it, which would qualify as a billboard, which makes them illegal,” Greatrex said at a recent La Jolla Town Council meeting.

In 2014, City representatives made the rounds to various La Jolla groups to present the proposal for kiosk locations. By the end of that year, each community group had voted to oppose the locations and the program’s presence in La Jolla. A few re-affirmed their position in 2016 and 2017. The Light’s inquiries as to whether the City was surprised by the backlash also went unanswered.

“Everywhere, from Bird Rock to The Shores, groups opposed this plan in 2014,” said La Jolla Parks & Beaches member Sally Miller at a recent La Jolla Town Council meeting. “The 2014 plan proposed taking 18 parking spaces from our Village (to install bike-share kiosks). In the 50 years I’ve lived here, the issue has always been parking, parking, parking, so to lose 18 spaces is ridiculous.” She added there were also proposed DecoBike stations for La Jolla’s parks and sidewalks.

Reviving the plan

In mid-2016, despite the opposition from local groups, the City announced it would be proceed with the installation of DecoBike kiosks in the beach communities, including La Jolla, but did not specify where or with how many kiosk locations there would be. Since that time, La Jolla’s advisories groups have requested meetings with City officials that could speak to the finality of the locations, but none were scheduled.

In August 2016, City spokesperson Katie Keach told the Light, “The City continues to do our due diligence on the review and selection of potential sites for DecoBike stations in the beach areas. We are taking additional steps to ensure all applicable regulations are considered before we propose stations to the community. This additional work has pushed our timeline out to mid-September. We will reach out to community members at that time.”

When September came and went with no meeting, Keach said, “We are now planning on scheduling presentations in February.” Details as to when or where were not given.

In an e-mail received Jan. 13, Keach told the Light, “The City of San Diego believes in the benefits of bike sharing. … We appreciate the feedback of all community members, and it informs our consideration of next steps ... additional station locations would be subject to input from an area’s community planning group.”

However, residents of areas like Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, would argue otherwise.

Other beach communities

Matthew Gardner, a 10-year owner of Cheap Rentals in Mission Beach and a member of the Mission Beach Town Council, said when City representatives spoke to his area’s planning groups, they were “unresponsive to the needs of community.”

“They offered lip service and when the community posed questions or concerns, they basically had the attitude of ‘DecoBikes are coming and you have to deal with it, because we have the support of the Mayor,’ ” Gardner said.

Since the installation of DecoBike kiosks in Mission Beach, Gardner reports his business has lost $60,000 a year. “We’ve seen growth as a company for the last 10 years, in 2014, before DecoBike came in, we had our best year. In 2015, when the stations went in, our bike rental number specifically dropped. It was a significant hit to our bike rental program.”

He added he has no opposition to competition or to bike-sharing programs in general, but alleges that DecoBike is getting “unfair advantages” by partnering with the City. “It’s my City, they should be supporting me, but they are competing with me. When they put those stations right in front of hotels, it gets customers before I can get to them. I pay taxes and fees to do business. It’s unfair for them to take my money and open a competing business,” Gardner said. “It’s really underhanded.”

In Pacific Beach, the lack of communication with residents posed the “biggest problems.” PB Town Council treasurer Bill Marsh said when DecoBike came before them, “There was a lot of talk suggesting they were going to coordinate with the community, but that didn’t seem to happen. The next thing we knew, the City and DecoBike had picked locations for where they were going to go and none of that was coordinated with any of our planning groups, our Business District or Town Council, and then all of a sudden the installations were happening. Now, we have them right on the beach, 50 yards from a bike rental shop. There was zero consideration for existing businesses.”

Marsh added that he never saw a list of locations before kiosks went in. “There was no negotiation, they did their own survey and said this is where they are going, that was the only notice. If they said the coordinated with the community, it was nothing more than ‘this is coming’ — that’s their coordination. That’s where our outrage is.

“I know they have a mandate from the City to make this work,” he continued, “but you don’t just put them in front of a bike rental place or on a boardwalk. There is a huge DecoBike rack on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, there are no other commercial agencies there and there are not supposed to be any. I could understand putting them in front of a trolley station or other mass transit, that makes sense, but the way they are doing things now just doesn’t work.”

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