City taken aback by ‘Bird dump’
by David Mendez
Though the flock of scooters disappeared as rapidly as they showed up, an invasion of Birds sent the city scrambling to react to the “pop-up” deployment of over 200 electric vehicles beginning on Friday. The deployment appears to have ended by Monday morning.
The scooters are not strictly illegal within Redondo Beach — electric-powered devices, such as electric bikes and scooters are not defined in the city’s municipal code. However, the city is currently reviewing reports to determine if Bird broke any ordinances during the three-day deployment.
The Redondo Beach City Council has had two discussions within the last year regarding shared mobility devices, such as electric bikes and scooters. Both times, the Council elected to push decisions on scooters down the road. Instead, the city has opted to study regulations and give local businesses, such as local bike rental companies, an opportunity to catch up.
Craig Barnes, owner of Marina Bike Rentals in King Harbor, was among the first to spot the Birds, when he learned of a staging area in the parking lot of nearby Seaside Lagoon on Thursday night. He estimated about 300 scooters set up in rows, ready to be deployed.
The City of Redondo Beach, he was told, initially believed the scooters were part of a film shoot taking place in the harbor.
Redondo’s elected officials learned of the deployment on Friday, courtesy of a mid-morning email by Bird spokesperson Tim Harter. Harter informed the Council that the company “chose to do a pop-up in Redondo Beach over the next few days to demonstrate our service to your community members — many of whom we’ve received emails from asking us when Bird would arrive.”
“I didn’t know anything about it until I saw three parked on Catalina Avenue by the frame store at 6 a.m. Friday morning,” Mayor Bill Brand said. “So there was no notice, and no warning.”
The scooters were scattered throughout South Redondo Beach, particularly along Pacific Coast Highway, Catalina Avenue, the Esplanade and the harbor area, and near landmarks, such as the Redondo Pier and the welcome arch at 190th Street.
But the scooters weren’t necessarily a welcome sight to residents. Local discussion pages on Facebook and Nextdoor lit up with posts and comments. Those who believed that the scooters were outlawed by the city were incensed, while others were surprised that the scooters were given passage by the city.
Avenues-area resident Danny Howe was among those along the Esplanade looking to give the Birds a spin. He’d seen them around Santa Monica and Venice, but never previously tried one. He was also surprised when he learned that the city hadn’t approved of the scooters.
“It has to be authorized,” Howe said. “I don’t want to see an influx, but I want it regulated and safe.”
The City Council’s previous decisions indicated they wanted to be patient to follow best-practices from around the region. But with this deployment, Bird has forced its hand.
Such surprises are commonplace for Bird, which has performed similar “pop-ups” in cities such as San Diego, Boston, Nashville, Fresno, and Santa Cruz, often to meet cease-and-desist letters, restrictions, or bans.
“I think they have a percentage of cities that had a shared mobility service initiated by a ‘dump,’ but this guerrilla-style operating model is not something that we’re used to,” said city Community Services Director John la Rock. “The Council chose in good faith to not be punitive up-front and to try and end up with something that could work with everyone. Now they may have a different reaction.”
According to Brand, he hadn’t seen such a negative response “in such a short span of time in 10 years of serving in local government.”
“I assume they’re trying to get a foothold by hook or by crook, and mostly by crook,” Brand said. “It works in some cities, but not in Redondo Beach. Anyone who wants to do business here needs to work with us.”
Bird spokespeople did not immediately respond to questions, though they released a statement.
“We believe Redondo Beach shares Bird’s vision of building communities with less traffic and reduced carbon emissions. We have voluntarily paused our service in the city and look forward to working with community officials to create a framework that works for everyone so that our affordable and accessible service can return to the people of Redondo Beach soon,” the statement read.
A Bird spokesperson was present at Councilman Nils Nehrenheim’s regularly-scheduled community meeting on Saturday, where they fielded questions from the public.
According to the spokesperson, Bird was prepared with 75 users registered as scooter-chargers, and wanted to fill a need for its approximately 2,500 registered users in Redondo Beach.
“Our public sidewalks are for public uses,” Nehrenheim said. “If they’re using the public right-of-way, the city needs to participate.”
An emergency meeting of the City Council was considered by Mayor Brand, but was withdrawn when the company withdrew its scooters. However, a meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 18, to address electric scooter use.
“Bird gave a perfect example of why they may want to have an urgency ordinance in place,” City Attorney Michael Webb said.
“I’m no fan of Bird right now,” Brand said, noting that his capacity as mayor leaves him without a vote in the matter, though he is authorized a veto on actions made with fewer than four votes. “For now, I think we should ban them and have the legal authority to remove them, if Bird or another company decides to ambush us with their products.