San Diego's no-helmet scooter documents under wraps

City refuses records request, cites attorney-client privilege

Almis Udrys

Critics who have suspected San Diego city hall of being in cahoots with electric scooter interests may raise their eyebrows at an email response by mayoral staffer Almis Udrys regarding a California bill allowing scooter riders over 18 to shed their protective headgear and ride free on public sidewalks.

For added intrigue, the city refuses to release any other documents related to the city's position on the controversial legislation that has been vehemently opposed by other California cities.

"There is a bill that passed out of the Assembly awaiting hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee that regulates 'stand-up electric scooters,' as a separate vehicle class than motorized scooters," says a June 20 email from mayor Kevin Faulconer's government affairs public policy manager Adrian Granda to Udrys and other mayoral staff members, including government relations director Patrick Bouteller.

High points of the bill at the time of the message, per the email, included allowing scooters "on sidewalks when a bike path is not available." The legislation would also permit the two-wheeled conveyances "to be used by non-minors without a helmet," according to Granda's missive. "A city could restrict them in areas if they choose to do so."

Responded Udrys, Faulconer's deputy chief of staff for Innovation & Policy: "I like this bill."

The one-page email exchange was the single document released by Faulconer in response to a June 25 public records act request for all city records regarding the legislation, introduced in February. But the city has denied access to the remaining documents, claiming attorney-client privilege, an exemption to the state's sunlight law that Faulconer's office has been previously accused of abusing.

Granda's email notes that Assembly Democrat Todd Gloria of San Diego is "a co-author on the bill and their office expects it to pass. Let me know if you have any questions, but good to know this is out there as the Council discusses potential regulations."

The legislation, known as AB 2989, has been a high-stakes moving target, heavily lobbied by scooter industry giant Bird as well as opponents, including the cities of San Francisco and Santa Monica, as it has morphed its way through the legislature.

"We fiercely advocated to maintain vital safety linchpins that would have been stripped in AB 2989's original form, including the driver's license requirement and prohibition on sidewalk riding," Constance Farrell, public information officer for the City Manager of Santa Monica, said in a July 16 CNET story about the months-long struggle over the bill.

The most recently amended version of the legislation posted online would bar scooter speeds "in excess of 35 miles per hour unless the motorized scooter is operated within a Class II or Class IV bikeway," and require helmets for those only under the age of 18, which to critics remains a worrisome provision of the bill.

"If you hit a pothole on a bicycle with a big wheel, you could have a problem. You hit a pothole on this little thing, you're going to go down," forensic kinesiologist James Kent told CNET. "If I fall over sideways and I can't break that fall and don't have a helmet on, I can potentially kill myself."

In April, San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin blasted AB 2989, telling TechCrunch, “It is disturbing that the same companies and investors who have pledged to work with the City to respect California public safety and public realm laws are spending lobbying dollars in Sacramento to repeal them."

According to her most recent disclosure filing dated April 24, San Diego influence peddler Clarissa Reyes Falcon of Falcon Strategies got $10,000 from Bird during the first quarter of the year, lobbying councilmembers Chris Ward, David Alvarez, and Georgette Gomez, and Faulconer staffer Elyse Lowe along with five other city employees regarding the company's agenda.

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What's perhaps more surprising is not that the city isn't releasing these docs, or claiming an obviously inapplicable exemption from California law—it's that they admit they even exist. Usually they play everything off by claiming there are no responsive documents. Are Kev-boy's handlers getting as sloppy as their ward?

In any event, this is just more proof (if any needed) that the safety and welfare of San Diegans are always up for sale by our politicians if the price is right.

As a footnote, Granda was formerly Councilmember Gloria's spokesperson. And his incompetence showed back then; PR is not his background. In my experience dealing with Granda, he was uncooperative with the Reader.

This is great progress! Every adult should be able to choose to wear a helmet or not. Those concerned for their safety (or those who ride aggressively) can still wear helmets if they elect to. Less regulation, the better. Enough Nanny State BS!

So sdvoyager...great call for personal freedom of choice...til one of these folks crashes and sues the city.

Yours is the same argument that we heard back when seat belt laws were proposed, and later on when motorcycle helmet laws were debated. Unfortunately, when some adult puts him/herself in harm's way with inherently unsafe conduct and is injured, the system is expected to care for him/her. That means the taxpayers pay for the medical care, and often for some sort of financial support for life. And, hey, what's the difference between these scooters and motorcycles anyway?

Scooters are the way of the future. No emissions. Easy to access. Quite. Safe. What’s the big deal. Seems like everyone’s hair is on fire about the regulating scooters. It’s seems like this would be a low priority in a city with all the major issues it has not dealt with. Don’t be a party-pooper

The problem is THEY AREN'T SAFE....I don't really care about the scooter-riders themselves. In fact, I pretty much agree with sdvoyager regarding the helmet. The issue is the obvious danger they pose to pedestrians when ridden on the sidewalks. If you don't understand the potential harm to a pedestrian by a 10-year old riding an electric scooter 20-25 mph on a sidewalk then you are truly an idiot...and don't tell me it isn't happening regularly...I see it on the Mission Beach Boardwalk multiple times daily!

"Scooters are the way of the future." True, if you are 10 years old, don't have to carry anything that doesn't fit in a pocket, and actually need to go somewhere dressed in attire other than fllp-flops and shorts. Please don't be so silly. Riders should wear helmets and stay off sidewalks. And they should be ticketed if they don't follow those rules.

Maybe the same corrupt clowns from the water department moved over to the city attorneys office.

I have been frothing at the mouth for some millennial to accidentally hit me... LOL. Agreed, even an ardent Libertine like myself realizes that a lot of people are stupid and stupidity will cost me money. So wear a gawd damn helmet and stay off the gawd damn sidewalks and away from me by about 6' - minimum. If not, Darwin's Law should apply, and please don't start a GoFundMe page when you crack your skull open you Midwest transplant. Thanks, Native San Diegan.

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