An attempt to ban electronic scooters from the boardwalks in La Jolla Shores, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach failed at the San Diego City Council meeting May 22. However, the proposal will go before the Council’s public safety committee for further review and will come back before the City Council at a future date.
District 2 Council member Lorie Zapf (whose district includes PB and Mission Beach) presented fellow Council members with two related items for vote: to introduce and adopt an emergency ordinance that would go into effect immediately and prohibit the operation of motorized scooters on the boardwalk in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach; and a second to introduce a permanent ordinance that would go into effect July 13 and prohibit the operation of motorized scooters on the boardwalk in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, Mission Bay Park Bayside Walk, and La Jolla Shores Boardwalk.
Zapf told the Council: “This issue came to me from the community. I’m responding to so many people throughout the community groups that have seen too much and to a public safety issue. We are not proposing a ban, these vehicles can still be used in the City, this is just for the beach boardwalks. This is not an accident waiting to happen, these accidents have happened.”
District 1 Council member Barbara Bry, who represents La Jolla, said she was in favor of the ordinance, relating: “A few weeks ago, my husband and I were walking … and I counted 30 scooters, some going really fast, and we did not see one person wearing a helmet. The electric scooters and other forms of transportation are innovative options and I want these companies to succeed. But we need smart, flexible and fair regulations.”
During public testimony, speakers in favor of the prohibitive ordinances called the scooters a “danger,” a “hazard” and said riders are going at “break-neck speeds.” They asked for the ordinance proposal to be extended to downtown and other areas. At issue is the speed at which these scooters can reach, which is faster than that of pedestrians, bicycles and man-powered skates and skateboards.
However, representatives from Bird scooters and their “safety ambassadors” also spoke during public testimony. “In past weeks, we have launched Bird safety ambassador programs. We’ve trained San Diego’s first team to educate riders on the boardwalk. We hand out helmets, because ensuring the safety of Bird riders is paramount and we will continue having productive conversations to boost our efforts,” said Tim Harder of Bird.
Among those Council members opposed to the boardwalk ban were District 3’s Chris Ward and District 7’s Scott Sherman. Ward said there is a hastiness to “ban everything” and questioned whether an emergency ordinance is the most appropriate route, noting the last time one was used was to ban a street drug.
Sherman argued the issue could be better solved with education in using them properly rather than banning the vehicles themselves.
“We can’t just ban something just because some people are acting irresponsibly,” he said. “And, frankly, I’m shocked that people are acting irresponsibly at the beach. To me, this is a knee-jerk reaction to some complaints from the community.”
The motion to adopt the emergency ordinance failed 6-3. The motion to introduce the permanent prohibiting scooters failed 5-4.
Following the vote, Zapf told La Jolla Light: “I’m disappointed that my colleagues failed to realize the tremendous public safety problem electric scooters present on the boardwalk. I intend to continue working with the police department, the lifeguard service and community leaders to refine the proposal so that it can gather majority support on the Council.”
Bry added that she, too, was disappointed the ordinances did not pass: “Our boardwalks experience high pedestrian traffic, which is going to increase drastically during the summer months. Now is the time for sensible and fair regulations that take into consideration the safety of boardwalk patrons, as well as the electric-scooter riders.” She added that the vote “does not signal the end to this issue.”
In April, The La Jolla Shores Association sought to ban dockless bicycles and scooters throughout La Jolla Shores, and sent a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Bry asking for the prohibition.
Of the City Council’s vote, LJSA chair Janie Emerson said: “I don’t know why they wouldn’t ban these dangerous vehicles along the boardwalks. There are a lot of people really upset about them, and it’s become a real problem. I was on the boardwalk yesterday and there were two guys on one scooter and people needed to jump out of their way.”
Of where to go from here, she said: “I don’t know what to do. This is a safety issue where you have congestion already … and you bring these into the mix. Someone is going to get killed.”