Bike License change in Santa Monica
Invitation for Discussion

Below you will find the staff report that addresses the proposed change to the bicycle license ordinance in the City of Santa Monica.  Hotly contested in it’s current form the new proposal would eliminate  the current harsh penalties and selective enforcement issues, yet still utlizes a program that is non-sustainible and many view as useless.

It could be said that this program offered by the city is redundant with efficient privately run registration programs for theft recovery, and costs money that could be more effectively used in actually “preventing bike theft”.  Perhaps suggesting the city align themselves with a program such as BikeRegistry, (which is free) and utilizing funds in more efficient programs for bikes that help prevent theft, ie MORE APPROVED BIKE RACKS.

The list goes on…..

This item will be discussed in a special joint meeting of the City Council and the Redevelopment AgencyMonday, January 17th 2011, 5:30pm,
City Hall, 1685 Main Street, Santa Monica, council chambers.

City Council Report

City Council Meeting: January 17, 2011 Agenda Item: 7-B

To:              Mayor and City Council

From:         Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney

Subject:     Ordinance Amending Chapter 3.20 of the Santa Monica Municipal Code, Relating to the Licensing of Bicycles, Including Fees and Fines

Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council introduce for first reading the attached proposed ordinance relating to bicycle licensing.

The California Vehicle Code regulates bicycle licensing and limits cities’ authority in that field. Among other things, State law sets maximum fees for bicycle licenses and maximum fines for operating a bicycle without a license. This ordinance would conform the Santa Monica Municipal Code provision on fines to the State maximum, raise the City’s current $1.00 per year licensing fee to the state maximum of $4.00 and also raise transfer, replacement and renewal fees, clarify and simplify code provisions relating to bicycle licensing, and conform code provisions to current practices.


California Vehicle Code Section 39002 authorizes cities to adopt bicycle licensing requirements and also establishes strict limits on local authorit

y. Pursuant to this authorization, Santa Monica has had bicycle licensing laws at least since the late 1970’s, including laws that establish fees for licensure and a fine for operating a bicycle without a license.

The City’s current fine for operating a bicycle without a license exceeds the limit set by State law. Staff has reviewed the matter and noted that Vehicle Code Section 39011 limits to $10.00 any municipal fine imposed for any violation of an ordinance or resolution adopted pursuant to State law. Staff also noted that bike licensing fees charged by the City are below the maximums set by Vehicle Code Section 39004: $4.00 for a new license and $2.00 for transferring, replacing or

Executive Summary

Bicycle Licensing – City of Santa Monica 1/15/11 3:05 PM

renewing a license. Finally, staff noted that several current code provisions are unnecessary because they duplicate State law and that certain disparities exist between code provisions, which were adopted decades ago, and current practices.


The attached proposed ordinance would conform the City’s fine for operating a bicycle without a license to the $10.00 limit established by State law. Additionally, because current fees for obtaining, renewing and transferring licenses do not come close to covering the cost of operating the licensing program, the ordinance would increase fees to the modest limits set by State law: $4.00 for a license and $2.00 for a transfer, replacement or renewal.

The ordinance would also clarify and simplify existing code provisions. For example, the ordinance would clarify the licensing requirement authorized by State law, which is that City residents (not visitors) must have a license in order to operate a bicycle on public property within the City. More

over, code provisions purporting to regulate the activities of bicycle dealers would be deleted as unenforceable. Provisions duplicative of State law would be deleted as unnecessary.

Finally, the ordinance would conform code provisions relating to bicycle licensing to existing practice. For example, references to the City Clerk administering the bicycle licensing program would be deleted because the licensing program is operated by the Finance Department.

Alternatives Because the City’s licensing authority is limited in that only residents may be required to obtain a license and because the proposed fees related to bicycle licensing are insufficient to cover the cost of administering the licensing program, Council may wish to consider eliminating the local licensing requirement. However, doing so could adversely impact the Police Department’s ability to address bicycle theft. Therefore, staff recommends retaining the licensing program.

Adoption of this ordinance would not have significant financial impacts upon the City. It would result in the City receiving slightly more revenue related to bicycle licensing. Last year, total revenue received from the $1.00 per year license fee was about $325.00. Licensing activity has increased this year as a result of Police Department outreach programs and revenue received year

Financial Impacts and Budget Actions

to date is about $640.00. If the ordinance were adopted and the volume of licenses issued stayed about the same as in a typical year, the City would likely receive about $850.00. This small amount does not come close to the cost of administering the program.

Prepared by: Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney

ATTACHMENT A: Proposed Ordinance

6 thoughts on “

Bike License change in Santa Monica
Invitation for Discussion

  1. Dr Michael Cahn

    Bike ownership statistics say there are about 36,000 bicycles in Santa Monica. In 1 year less than 1 percent of these bikes were registered (325 bikes, to be precise). Is that a successful program? How much does this program cost the public purse? How many man-hours? What is the true cost of a counter transaction that involves a typewriter, adhesive tape, and secondary data entry.

    Well, they say that the bicycle license can help to return a stolen bike to its rightful owner. Do we have a single documented case for this in Santa Monica? Those who know how to break a bike lock will surely master the art of removing a license sticker.

    This is a program designed for non-compliance. Since so few bikes are licensed, the program gives the police the opportunity to target cyclists, especially those who look like they may be carrying drug paraphernalia in their back-packs. This targeting of the population of cyclists is not in the public interest, and not fair.

    Former LAPD Chief William Bratton recommended in December 2008 that “we follow other large municipalities and discontinue our bicycle licensing.” He writes: “San Francisco [..] Denver, Portland and New York do not have bicycle licensing programs.” A few weeks later, the LA City Council votes to discontinue the program in LA. What does Santa Monica know that Bratton did not know?

    My ear on the ground tells me that our community has little patience for ineffective programs which waste precious staff time without significant return. If our officers have free time, the city would be better served if they spent time on the bike, patrolling streets like Wilshire and Lincoln Blvd in a serious bid to make those streets safe for all users.

    Why not check out how they do things differently in Chicago:

    Or in Los Angeles.

    We all wish a license program would combat the blight of bike theft. But in truth it just does not work like this. No more wishful thinking, please, and no more targeting of cyclists.

  2. Henry H

    Thanks for the article. I can not attend the meeting, but here are some additional thoughts I have. Feel free to use it to address the city council: In the time of economic distress faced by many municipalities, this program seem like such a waste of time, effort, and infringement of civil liberty (not to mention discrimination against it’s own citizen because visitors do not have to follow this law). As you mentioned, the BikeRegistry is one option for someone wanting their bike to be registered. The National Bike Registry, which works with National Crime Prevention Council, is another option .
    Both options allows voluntary participation to the program and does not cost the city anything to administer!

  3. Marino Pascal

    There are 88 cities in LA County. City by city licensing does not make any sense.
    Just a simple 2 hr trip along the beach bike path would take you through the cities of Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey (Los Angeles, Unincorporated LA County), El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach. And it could easily expand to Torrance, Hawthorne, Inglewood and Culver City if one was to take a different return route.

    Do we need a license from each one of these cities? How much would it cost the taxpayer if we went to court to contest the tickets based on non residency?

    Any advantages to bike licensing could only be possibly realized if it were a statewide, state run program just like for automobiles and motorcycles. City by city licensing of vehicles that cross city borders is impractical and counter productive.

  4. Robert Johnson

    It’s difficult to believe that Santa Monica considers itself bike-friendly when they’ve been illegally handing out $1000 misdemeanor charges and $250 fines for unlicensed bikes for years.

    Marino, this is a state run (albeit, locally implemented) licensing program. The license Santa Monica gives you is good for any of the two or three cities in CA that still require it.

  5. Pingback: An open letter to the Santa Monica City Council on bike licensing « BikingInLA

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