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Pacific Beach examines the scope of scooter scat at Town Council meeting

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A group of e-scooters rests within a new ‘corral’ recently painted on Cass Street by the City to house them.
(Light File)

With the City of San Diego’s new regulations for electric scooters having taken effect on July 1, their effectiveness in establishing some semblance of order in the community was the dominant topic at the Pacific Beach Town Council’s July 17 meeting, held in the auditorium of Crown Point Jr. Music Academy.

Spokespeople for e-scooter towing companies Scoot Scoop and Mobile Transportation Services described their efforts to combat e-scooters illegally parked on private property, while the audience grilled City officials about enforcement and gaps in the new rules.

Presenters gleaned as much information as they provided when Town Council president Brian White went into the crowd to engage residents and business owners about their experiences. This brought the growing divergence between the original intent of e-scooter companies, such as Bird and Lime, and the present practices into sharp focus.

“When the scooter companies came in, they claimed it was for the last mile of your commute,” said former Town Council president Joe Wilding. Noting that he hasn’t observed e-scooters concentrated around transportation hubs such as trolley and train stations as one would expect, he added: “So this connecting San Diego bit ... that’s not what’s happening. It’s laughable. It really is. Somebody is being dishonest here. This stinks.”

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The audience dissected the efficacy of geo-fencing, a technological fix introduced by the e-scooter companies that impedes drivers from parking or speeding in restricted zones, such as sections of the beach boardwalks.

Some, like e-scooter user Jason Niebert, said that geo-fencing has had an impact on his rides. “I tried to park somewhere on the boardwalk and it wouldn’t let me,” he said. “Some of it is working.”

Others, like Jennifer Liebthal, noted mixed results, depending on the specific company. Having met recently with pertinent City officials along with other beach community residents, she described techniques applied by tech-savvy users to override geo-fencing.

Moreover, Liebthal said the geo-fencing solution has given rise to new problems.

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“They’re racing through the alleys to get away from geo-fencing,” she said. “And that’s very dangerous because a lot of people along the beach area have to back their car out of very tight spots in the alleyways. When they’re doing that, they cannot combat people coming at them from either direction at 15 miles per hour.”

John Burlison, CEO of Mobile Transport Solutions, agreed, arguing that the solution is only as good as the cooperation of the riders with it.

“What ends up happening is a lot of these geo-fencing issues exacerbate the problem instead of making it better,” he said. “Because if you take your scooter onto private property that’s been geo-fenced and you stop it there, then it doesn’t work. How many of you would pick up a scooter that’s dead and move it off yourself? No, you’re going to leave it there.”

The audience highlighted continued violations of the new regulations, such as the maximum of four scooters in any location, arguing that only strict enforcement would bring about compliance.

Monica Eslamian, PB representative for District 2 City Council member Jennifer Campbell, said that the City provided a 30-day period of lenient enforcement with the enactment of the new regulations so that relevant agencies could adjust to the evolving environment. “I know (the City) didn’t anticipate the workload being this much,” she said. “So I think they have to go back to the drawing board with this.”

New e-scooter issues arise

Yet a host of growing e-scooter problems were revealed during the proceedings. Liebthal described how cars are parked farther away from the curb and into bicycle lanes when e-scooters are also parked there, pushing bicyclists into traffic. However, she found one e-scooter issue to be a literal nuisance.

“I have to say a big beef with almost everybody is the alarms,” Liebthal said. “Those are ridiculous and you can hear them from four houses away. I’m not talking (just) at night, but all day long.”

With graffiti an ongoing blight in the community, John Heinkel, co-owner of Scoot Scoop, described a new form of the vandalism directly linked to the e-scooters.

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“The new thing for the kids is ... when they’re done driving an e-scooter, they will lift up the front wheel and hit the accelerator so the wheel is spinning and then they’ll draw very interesting drawings on the sidewalk,” he said. “And it’s rubber embedded into the concrete.”

Some of the e-scooter problems are outright dangerous to life and limb. Eslamian warned of reports that some people have been cutting the brakes of parked e-scooters. “People, please be careful on scooters,” she said. “Check the brakes before you go off on them.”

With the open forum fostering a discussion more than a question-and-answer session, an assortment of other issues were brought to the forefront. Although the City has been pressing people to use the Get It Done app to file complaints with the City, a number of residents noted that when they check on the status of their complaint, it’s reported as “closed” even though no resolution has been reached.

While City officials acknowledged the glitch and said personnel are currently investigating it, San Diego Police Community Relations officer Larry Hesselgesser urged the audience to be persistent until the issue is resolved.

“You have to keep going with it and following up on it,” he said. “If it’s not getting done go ahead and e-mail me and I’ll figure out what’s going on.” (His e-mail address is lhesselgesser@pd.sandiego.gov)

Street vendors vs PB businesses

With the City scrambling to create local regulations to incorporate a state law legalizing street vendors that came into effect on Jan. 1, Sara Berns, executive director of Discover PB (the local Business Improvement District), said the legislation is already impacting area businesses negatively and her group is lobbying the City to take their concerns into account in drafting the new rules.

“Obviously for us, our concern is our brick-and-mortar businesses, particularly the ones down on the boardwalk, where folks are able to set up right in front of them,” she said. “There’s people selling almost the exact same thing outside of someone’s door who’s paying $10,000 a month for rent. Clearly, it’s an issue for them.” (See related story, “City Council committee takes up sidewalk vending”)

While stating that only five e-scooter companies are currently licensed to do business in the City and that any new operators such as the recently arrived Wheels are operating illegally, Eslamian’s explanation of how such a situation can occur succinctly summarized many of the problems discussed during the meeting.

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“They know that since it’s such a big City, they’re trying to get under the regulations and not comply with what we’re putting out as a City,” Eslamian said. “So we need you guys who are out there on the ground to let us know.”

—The PB Town Council is on its annual summer recess and will not meet in August. In September, in connection with other coastal organizations, the Town Council will host a Mayoral Debate between candidates in lieu of its regular meeting. The debate will be held 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18 in the Mission Bay High School auditorium. For more information, visit pbtowncouncil.org


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