Minor city violations, such as riding a bike on the sidewalk, are now issued with citations, a major change from the lengthy procedure of going to court for a misdemeanor.
City staff recommended the process as a way to increase the amount of fines collected as well as simplify an unnecessary court process for residents. Currently, unless otherwise specified, any violation of the Santa Monica Municipal Code is a misdemeanor. City Council agreed on Nov. 23 to allow the option of treating a violation to certain ordinances similar to a traffic fine.
Riding a bike on sidewalks or in parking structures, remaining in City parking structures for reasons other than parking, and leaving property unattended on certain public property, are all violations that will be treated with citations. This also includes specific codes to the “use and enjoyment” of public parks, most importantly how one acts in a park.
When a person is charged with a misdemeanor, he or she must appear in court to answer the charges. The person doesn’t have the option to pay a fine online or by mail, as is the case with citation violations. Treating these violations as infractions will allow the person charged with the offense to resolve the matter in the same way as a traffic violation, by simply paying a fine.
Santa Monica Police Officers could issue citations as either infractions or misdemeanors for specific, sometimes controversial City codes. The ordinance also expands the list of City staff authorized to issue citations to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment Inspectors, License Inspectors, and Animal Control Officers.
The City Council reviewed the City code after receiving a complaint from a resident who received a misdemeanor citation for riding his bicycle on a public sidewalk, according to the staff report. The person paid for the citation, but complained about the “inconvenience of going to court.” The Council unanimously agreed on Tuesday for the possibility to reduce the consequences for these minor violations.
Michael Cahn, a cyclist advocate and member of Santa Monica Spoke, lamented that reducing the citation did not address the “larger issue” of safer road conditions. He proposed using this occasion as an opportunity to involve police offers as educators, not just enforcers, for bikers who are often unaware of Santa Monica’s laws. The laws do not promote riding bicycles, Cahn said, curbing an opportunity for a systematic approach by the City to deal with violations.
Gary Cavanaugh, another Spoke representative, encouraged reducing violations to infractions, describing misdemeanors as too strong. He pointed to legislation in Oregon and Austin, Texas that allows police officers to connect cyclists to education classes instead of simply enacting fines, a process that could be implemented in Santa Monica.
The problem with still be an issue on streets such as Lincoln Boulevard until it becomes less of an “hostile environment,” he said about people riding their bikes on the sidewalk for safety reasons.
The City of Los Angeles does not cite cyclists for riding on the sidewalk. L.A. also revoked a bike license registration that overcharged according to state law, a similar situation that city attorneys said will be addressed by Santa Monica at a later date.