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A Smart trend or just vandalism?

Tipping of 4 tiny cars in San Francisco sets off a media frenzy

April 09, 2014|Lee Romney
  • A passerby studies one of the tipped-over Smart cars in San Francisco. Police consider the four acts to be vandalism.
A passerby studies one of the tipped-over Smart cars in San Francisco. Police… (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press )

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 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 followed suit plunged this week 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 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 -- protests against Google commuter buses -- had shape-shifted into a more convenient 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.

Shyy encouraged anyone with information on the tippers to call San Francisco police.

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lee.romney@latimes.com

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