6 months in jail and $1000 fine for riding without a bike license in Santa Monica

By Alex Thompson

There are few things that shock me as a bike activist anymore.  This discovery by Gary Kavanagh floored me – if you ride a bike without a bike license in Santa Monica it’s:

punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars per violation, or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

. . . wow.

Let’s hear it again:

punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars per violation, or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

That is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.  More importantly, Gary points out that the California Vehicle Code, which takes precedence over municipal law, authorizes municipalities to create a bike licensing program.  In authorizing them, it only provides for a $10 fine, and no jail time:

Wait a minute, in the California Vehicle code it specifically states in C.V.C. Division 16.7 – Registration and Licensing of Bicycles, Section 39011; “No fine imposed for any violation of an ordinance or resolution, which is adopted pursuant to this division, shall exceed ten dollars ($10)”.

So, Santa Monica is in violation of state law.  Moreover, followers of the police blotter have noted that SMPD tends to use this code to hassle the homeless.  This is a violation of human rights – an insult to dignity.  The bike licensing provision in state law was intended facilitate recovering stolen bikes, and instead Santa Monica is using it to hassle homeless people, and a few years ago, Critical Mass.

I’ll add more to Gary’s fire.  C.V.C Division 16.7, Section 39002, also specifies that municipalities may create a bike licensing program for residents only:

A city or county, which adopts a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution, may provide in the ordinance or resolution that no resident shall operate any bicycle, as specified in the ordinance, on any street, road, highway, or other public property within the jurisdiction of the city or county, as the case may be, unless the bicycle is licensed in accordance with this division.

The Santa Monica law oversteps by requiring all cyclists to have a license:

Any person desiring to operate or use a bicycle upon any of the streets of the City shall apply therefor to the City Clerk or bicycle retailer (authorized agent) who shall record the name and address of the owner thereof and a description of said bicycle. The City Clerk or authorized agent shall issue the license requested upon payment by the applicant of the fee herein required.

Needless to say, this law is ridiculous, and I’ll be emailing the City Attorney, City Manager, and the City Council requesting it’s immediate removal from the books.  You can email them too:

  • Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney, attorney@smgov.net
  • Lamont Ewell, City Manager, manager@smgov.net
  • Santa Monica City Council, city@genser.org, pam.oconnor@smgov.net, richard.bloom@smgov.net, gleam.davis@smgov.net, robert.holbrook@smgov.net, kevin@mckeown.net, bobby.shriver@smgov.net  

Big ups to Gary for discovering this – go read that article of his, it’s chock full of goodness.

Bike friendly city indeed.  Good job League of American Bicyclists, you picked a winner!

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    17 Responses to “6 months in jail and $1000 fine for riding without a bike license in Santa Monica”

    1. do you have an email template we can all use to get started? i’d love to help get rid of this law. it IS PURE LUDICROUS!

    2. Meanwhile, when I bought a bike in Santa Monica last year, I asked the shop about bike licenses and they were completely unaware of any need for one, or any way to sell me one.

      Even without the California Vehicle Code issue, it sounds as if Santa Monica PD could impose this law on someone regardless of where they live. Is that correct? What if I live in a city that doesn’t have a bike registration program, and I bike through Santa Monica?

    3. That’s definitely an issue Kate, and I think that is why the CVC only authorizes them to have a program (penalty) for residents. It’s not practical to ask that non-residents obtain a license before riding through. SMPD, as it’s written, can ticket you for just that, but if they do, let me know, and we’ll go to court and get the SM law struck down.

    4. I can sadly envision SMPD officers conducting sweeps of their beach bike paths for unlicensed bikes while ignoring the multitude of pedestrians walking along them in violation of the BIKES ONLY ordinance.

    5. i emailed the above people. thanks!

    6. Thanks, Alex–I’ll let you know if the need arises!

    7. Y’all – I gotta come in here and let you know that I cannot confirm that homeless have been hassled by this law. I misread something that said “laws of this type have been used to hassle the homeless” as “this law has been used to hassle the homeless.” My apologies.

      Regardless, the law is ridiculous, and we’ll be working to change it.

    8. Dear Mr. de Cordoba,

      Although I am not able to address the amendment of this law, I can address the police department’s persepctive on bicycle licenses. If a bicycle is stolen and the owner reports it to the PD, we always request serial numbers and/or bicycle license information. The reason for requesting this information is so that it can be entered into the stolen property database. When we recover bicycles we always run the serial numbers in an effort to return it to its rightful owner. Unfortunately, most bicycle owners do not record the serial numbers, and thus the bicycles cannot be returned. In addition, the mere fact a bicycle has a license can also be a deterrent to potential thiefs. The PD rarely issues citations for this violation, and those that have been issued are in conjuction with other violations.

      So, in conclusion, we do encourage bicycle owners to obtain bicycle licenses because it assists us in the return of bicycles should they be stolen. But, in no way is this seen as a tool to stop bicyclists unnecessarily. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

      Sincerely,

      Kathy Keane
      Lieutenant
      SMPD – Traffic
      (310) 458-8430

    9. Hey Alex,

      Kathy Keane is the head of traffic (as you learned), and was head of traffic throughout the hassling of Critical Mass.

      Interesting interaction you had – good call making the call. Mihai Peteu has been trying to get SMPD to pursue specific bike thefts to no avail, so I wonder what he would think of this.

    10. I personally have yet to hear of a single bike being recovered by SMPD, and I am personally aware of at least 30 thefts this year. Two personal, four were friends of mine, 1 was a person whose bike was stolen on the beach path minutes after I locked mine up, and the rest I have seen posted on Craigslist. Imagine how many actual bike thefts occur in Santa Monica if only such a small percentage are reported.

      Now if the City of Santa Monica would at least offer a consolatory gift for those that have their licensed bike stolen, like, let’s say, a Rice Krispies treat or Snickers w/ Almonds bar, then I would be relatively supportive of bike licenses. But in all honestly, the argument that bike license stop bike theft is rather silly. If thieves have tools to cut cables, and in most cases, actually grind down the serial numbers on the frame, then what makes you think they won’t take the 20 seconds to scrape off the license sticker off a bike?!?

    11. this was what i received via email today – obviously after reading Alex de Cordoba’s letter, it’s a simple carbon copy. i’m not at all shocked nor disappointed. just angered and frustrated.

      and after reading Mihai’s comment above, well, can we not write up “something” that expresses the hypocrisy here? and ultimately challenge them with the way we should be treated by rewriting what fits better for cyclists? i have no idea. this isn’t my game. but what i’ve learned in the past, is that either you become the martyr or take them down from the inside – that’s not Hollywood talk, that’s historical (i can reference those examples).

      Dear Ms. Bond,

      Although I am not able to address the amendment of this law, I can address the police department’s persepctive on bicycle licenses. If a bicycle is stolen and the owner reports it to the PD, we always request serial numbers and/or bicycle license information. The reason for requesting this information is so that it can be entered into the stolen property database. When we recover bicycles we always run the serial numbers in an effort to return it to its rightful owner. Unfortunately, most bicycle owners do not record the serial numbers, and thus the bicycles cannot be returned. In addition, the mere fact a bicycle has a license can also be a deterrent to potential thiefs. The PD rarely issues citations for this violation, and those that have been issued are in conjuction with other violations.

      So, in conclusion, we do encourage bicycle owners to obtain bicycle licenses because it assists us in the return of bicycles should they be stolen. But, in no way is this seen as a tool to stop bicyclists unnecessarily. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

      Sincerely,

      Kathy Keane
      Lieutenant
      SMPD – Traffic
      (310) 458-8430

    12. in response to the above blog:

      i found this most interesting, re: “why” you purchased a bike license in the city of Santa Monica: “I simply — and some might add irrationally (or worse) — like having it on record that the bike is mine and I’m the bike’s. No matter how worthlessly removable the actual license is, no matter how ridiculously long the odds are that the bike if stolen would be recovered or that the license would aid in its return to me, it is satisfying to me to have done so.”

      this line made me pause. so, i rewrote it in my head as if you were talking about a marriage license.

      “I simply – and some might add irrationally (or worse) – like having on record that this woman (or man) is mine and i’m the woman’s (or man’s). No matter how worthlessly removable the actual (marriage) license is, no matter how ridiculously long the odds are that my woman (or man) would cheat (stolen away from me) i could recover her or that the (marriage) license would aid in her (or his) return to me, it is satisfying to me to have done so.”

      i found that funny, thought i’d share.

      i do, however, appreciate the blog. it’s always interesting and educational to read the opposite opinion.

      thanks, Will Campbell

    13. Boycott santa monica..take your $ elsewhere…come down to SM only to shit upon it.

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