Whose bike is this, anyway?

City of Chico to upgrade its registration system

The city is trying to more effectively prevent bike theft.

The city is trying to more effectively prevent bike theft.

CN&R file photo

For years—decades, really—Chico’s bicycle registration and licensing system has failed to do what it was intended to do: help police recover stolen bikes and raise money for bicycle safety education. Confronted by increasing numbers of bike thefts, the city finally is taking steps to change that.

By law, anyone who owns or rides a bike in Chico must license it. And yet, in the past four years, the city has issued only about 750 licenses. That hasn’t provided sufficient revenue to maintain an ongoing bicycle education program, nor has it helped with thefts, Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin told Chico City Council members during their meeting Tuesday (Oct. 18).

“Thefts exceed permits by 2-1,” he said.

It’s a Catch-22. Most bicycle owners don’t license their bikes because it costs $12 for a three-year license and they have to go to city offices to do it. (The city recently added online registration, but few people know about it.) Then, because the bikes are unlicensed, police who come across a stolen bike have a hard time finding its owner.

There are other weaknesses in the current program, Constantin said. One, college students are transient, which poses a challenge to ensuring licensing. Second, bike stores aren’t authorized to issue licenses. And, third, Chico State has a separate licensing program, and the university and the city don’t share information.

Constantin’s proposal would change the system in key respects. Registration would be free and available online, and bike store owners would be authorized to register bikes on their customers’ behalf.

The city already is moving toward greater efficiency in preventing bike theft. The online bicycle registration system has been integrated into the police department’s dispatch program, and the city is also working with a free national bicycle database, bikeindex.org, to enable city bicycle information to be uploaded so that bicycles stolen here but found elsewhere can be traced back to their owners.

The council voted unanimously to revise the city’s bike licensing ordinance.

In other council news: Calling it “Groundhog Day,” the council once again took up the matter of Chico Scrap Metal.

Some history: After years of back-and-forth on whether the East 20th Street recycling business would have to move, the council on June 7 voted, 4-3, to let it stay put as long as it cleaned up and beautified its operation. Then, on June 21, city staff discovered a clerical error in the development agreement with CSM that forced the council to rescind its decision—to start over, in other words.

First the package went back to the Planning Commission, which voted 3-3, with one commissioner absent, thereby sending it on to the council, which took it up on Tuesday. Approval was a foregone conclusion, but that didn’t keep council members from arguing about it again, nor several Chico residents from giving their opinions about it.

The core problem is that moving CSM elsewhere is expensive, and though the city and county originally promised to help pay for it when they approved the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan in 2004, that never happened, and now the city doesn’t have the money to follow through.

Both the city and county “absolutely failed” with CSM, said Mayor Mark Sorensen. “Nothing has been done on this issue.”

Councilwoman Ann Schwab wanted to give CSM yet another extension, but that went nowhere. Councilman Andrew Coolidge, who has worked with CSM and its opponents to come up with a compromise, wanted to continue looking for funding.

He “reluctantly” voted to approve the new package (the vote was 4-3, with Schwab, Tami Ritter and Randall Stone dissenting), but was successful in getting council approval to direct city staff to continue looking for funding.

Finally, Sorensen handed out the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards to three recipients selected by the city’s Arts Commission. They are: guitar legend Charlie Robinson (outstanding artist), retired opera and voice teacher Gwen Curatilo (outstanding artist/patron of the arts) and the 7th Street Centre for the Arts (outstanding organization).