Opinion » Street Talk

Pop a local wheelie

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Shop SLO Keep it local! That's what the tax-hungry city of San Luis Obispo urges its residents and businesses to do. If you really cared, I mean really gave a two-cent hoot about this place, you'd never, ever, never, ever think of dropping so much as one thin dime outside these city walls. Anyone who drives to a big-box store somewhere else is as bad as the barbarian child of a cretin and a philistine. Or so I've heard.

There are pithy stickers and logos and everything to remind us to keep our wallets here. Shop SLO Keep it local! But the city government doesn't seem compelled to follow the advice on its own stickers and logos, especially when it's buying big stuff. Like fancy new motorcycles for the police to cruise around on.

I'll give San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deb Linden this much: It's not easy to shop around here. The local shopkeepers slow you down with their pleasant banter and friendly ways and annoying offers to carry your bags to your car. Enough already! Do my biceps look that small? I can handle this birthday card on my own. Just give me some room. And maybe spot me a little.

And there's always that nagging suspicion that if you were to just drive 200 miles south or north, you might be able to merely for the price of a day of your life and $60 worth of gas get it cheaper.

But the city has hit upon a clever new strategy, which it demonstrated when it dropped more than $100,000 on new Honda police motorcycles. Let's call it "Try local, buy global." The story begins late last year after Honda came out with a slick new motorcycle with anti-lock brakes geared especially for police. The city was interested in the bikes. Who wouldn't be? With the new brakes, they'd be safer for the cops and, hey, they're Hondas. So the city reached out to the local shop, San Luis Motorsports, and asked if they had any to try out. Turns out the local shop was able to get hold of a model to loan out. And, of course, the SLO PD loved the thing! It stopped on a dime, had all the latest dealies and dingdongs, looked terrifically imposing in rearview mirrors, and, most importantly, went great with their shiny black knee-high jackboots. It's an ensemble.

They loved them so much, in fact, that they decided to buy six of them. From a shop in Huntington Beach. Without so much as asking San Luis Motorsports how much they'd charge the city for the same bikes.

Ouch. I suppose local shops are used to this sort of treatment. People wander in to jackboot stores, try on all the jackboots until they find one that fits exactly, and then go home and buy the same pair on the Internet for $10 less.

But why, friends and customers of San Luis Motorsports wondered, didn't the city even seek a bid? After all, they had to drive hundreds of miles to get these things, and where exactly do they think they're going to take them when they need to be fixed?

Turns out that when it comes to major purchases, the city prefers not to bother with local bidders.

When our managing editor chatted with Finance Director Bill Statler, he was told that the city, whenever possible, tries to glom on to state and federal contracts so it doesn't have to deal with the red tape of seeking bids itself. In this case, the city heard through the brake line get it? that the City of Santa Barbara had recently put out bids for roughly the same bikes, so it decided to buy six at the same price, using the same bid, like mooching off the guy next to you at an auction. When he puts his little sign up, you elbow him in the ribs and whisper, "I'll take a piece of that! Cut me in!"

When asked, Linden said that San Luis Motorsports would have been perfectly welcome to make bids on the Santa Barbara bike offer. If, somehow, they'd learned of it, I guess, since nobody told the local folks that it was happening.

Uh. Thanks. Did I mention that the local guys think that, given what the city paid for the bikes in Huntington Beach, they could have sold the bikes cheaper and provided the city about $1,000 in sales tax revenue? Ka-ching!

Linden and Statler both said, based on what they know of a police bike San Luis Motorsports sold to Grover Beach Police, the locals' price was still a couple ticks higher than what they paid for the Huntington Beach goods, but then it's impossible to know, because the local guy never got a chance to bid.

Oh, and just a little more salt on the wound: The city kept the license plate tags that came on the bikes. So the SLO police have been cruising around with tags that read: Huntington Beach Honda. Couldn't they at least use a license plate tag with a San Luis Obispo slogan? I have one in mind: "Shop SLO Keep it local!"

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