SAN FRANCISCO — This city likes to consider itself a trendsetter. And the excited response to the furtive tipping of four diminutive Smart cars early Monday morning just may have succeeded in sparking a trend.
Police believe a single group of six to eight “individuals” in black hoodies was responsible for placing all four of the tiny eco-friendly cars on their sides, roofs or back ends — a witness likened the latter sight to a Dachshund on its hindquarters — beginning at 1 a.m.
Three of the incidents occurred in the increasingly costly — in keeping with other San Francisco trends — neighborhood of Bernal Heights. The fourth was in Portola, not far away.
Police are treating the incidents, which damaged the vehicles and may have totaled some of them, as felony vandalism.
San Francisco police spokesman Gordon Shyy said Tuesday he could not recall any previous such incidents in the city, though he heard through the grapevine of a Smart car tipping two years ago in the Bayview district.
But the cars have been abused elsewhere — most notably in Amsterdam, where about five years ago a rash of mischief landed a number of them at the bottom of the city’s canals.
So in an effort to find meaning where there may or may not be any, local media and then their national brethren plunged into heady analysis.
Television stations likened the activity — practically deemed a new sport — to the boredom-inspired rural tradition of cow tipping. They flashed the dimensions of the cars, (about 11-by-5-by-5-feet) and compared their size and weight (1,800 pounds or less) to that of the average cow (1,400 pounds).
Some wondered if the backlash against a technology boom and skyrocketing housing costs had shifted into mini-mode.
Victim Andrew Smith, who had owned his Smart car for about six months, told ABC-7 News while awaiting word from his insurance adjuster that “the Smart car and the gentrification of San Francisco are linked in some people’s minds.”
In the short time that he and his wife have owned theirs, he told KCBS, “We’ve found a lot of people have very negative feelings about them.”
Whatever the speculation, some people clearly find the vehicles both endearing and begging for a bruising.
A self-proclaimed parody Facebook page dedicated to “Smart Car Tipping” slowly climbed in popularity Tuesday from fewer than 300 likes to more than 400. Though it notes in a disclaimer that “Smart Car Tipping is most likely not legal and is not recommended,” it welcomes photos of the tipped and helpless.
“There’s environmentally friendly then there’s just plain stupid which these cars are!” someone posted back in January 2013. But “before all the haters start,” he added: “I would never actually damage someone’s property, but mentally, it’s fun to picture em on their sides.”
Shyy encouraged anyone with information on the tippers to call San Francisco police. Because the tippings occurred in residential neighborhoods, he said, investigators have had a hard time tracking down any surveillance video.
Shyy said that though he wouldn’t call the act of one group on one night a “trend,” he couldn’t say what the future might bring.
“We can’t speculate,” he said. “I don’t know if someone is going to go do it more.”
The Twitter take on news coverage, however, was all over it: The activity, one post noted, is “becoming popular with San Francisco vandals.” “All the rage,” another called it. “The new trend in San Francisco,” a third proclaimed.
Sure enough, the idea seemed to pick up speed as the day wore on.
“I really wanna go smart car tipping, who’s in?” one man wrote Tuesday afternoon.
A representative at “Smart Center San Francisco” — the city’s authorized Smart car dealership — did not return a call for comment.