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Bird scooter firm settles legal fight with Santa Monica

Bird scooter firm settles legal fight with Santa Monica
A Bird scooter awaits its next rider at Colorado Avenue and 5th Street in Santa Monica. The firm ran into legal trouble with the city, which said it failed to secure proper business licenses. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The startup that placed electric scooters around Santa Monica for riders to share has reached a settlement with the city over allegations that it failed to secure businesses licenses and vendor permits.

The scooters, known as Birds, began to mysteriously show up around Santa Monica in September.

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Since then, residents and visitors, intrigued by the sight of the black scooters resting on sidewalks or in front of businesses throughout the city, have been using Birds as alternatives to cars, buses and bikes.

According to a statement released Tuesday from the Santa Monica city manager's office, Bird Rides Inc. pleaded no contest and agreed to pay more than $300,000 in fines and secure proper business licenses. The agreement also requires the company to run a weeklong public safety campaign on public buses.

Bird Chief Executive Travis VanderZanden, a former Lyft and Uber executive, created the company after moving to Santa Monica from the Bay Area.

To operate the scooters, riders have be at least 18, wear a helmet and stay off sidewalks. Eligible users can download an app and pay $1 plus 15 cents a minute to ride them at speeds up to 15 mph.

In addition to having safety concerns, Santa Monica officials grew frustrated at Bird's refusal to obtain permits.

Last December, the Santa Monica city attorney's office filed a nine-count misdemeanor criminal complaint against Bird and VanderZanden. The complaint alleged that Bird began operating its scooters without city approval and that it ignored citations asking the company to obtain proper licenses and remove the scooters from sidewalks.

Deputy City Atty. Eda Suh said in a statement that the settlement shows Bird failed to comply with Santa Monica's business licensing requirements.

"Bringing this new business into compliance with local law achieves a fair and positive outcome for the people of Santa Monica," Suh said.

Bird spokesman Marcus Reese said that under the settlement, the city agreed to dismiss the nine misdemeanor counts.

"We are pleased that Bird and the city of Santa Monica were able to work out our differences regarding licensure," Reese said. "Bird now starts fresh with the city, and we look forward to continuing to provide a safe, environmentally friendly transportation solution to the people of Santa Monica."

City officials said scooters will be available to residents and others who are eligible to ride them.

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad

Times staff writer Robin Abcarian contributed to this report.

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