San Jose opposes bill to ban towing vehicles

A handful of California lawmakers want to bar cities from towing cars over unpaid parking tickets and other fees that disproportionately harm low-income families and people living in their cars.

But in San Jose, officials are pushing back stating that the bill will exacerbate existing parking woes and excessive abandoned vehicles on city streets.

The bill, authored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, aims to roll back towing practices that harm low-income families, ensuring that vehicles with five or more parking tickets or a late six-month registration fee will not get booted or towed.

Chiu said that towing people’s cars “only makes it more difficult for families struggling to get by,” adding that exorbitant towing costs drive working families into debt and poverty.

Steep towing fees in the Bay Area — a region with increasing cost-of-living expenses — average to about $500, but San Jose has one of the most expensive towing fees in the state. An overnight tow cost starts around $550 and can get as high as $640 if the car also receives a parking citation.

“Cars are a necessary lifeline to countless Californians who rely on them to drive to work,” added Chiu. “AB 516 will help working families continue to drive to work, pay their rent and bills, and provide for their families.”

The bill states that “it is not sound public policy to tow privately owned vehicles that are safely parked, not causing traffic inconvenience, and not involved in a crime,” and individuals can lose their cars if they cannot afford “the often astronomical fines.” When a person can’t pay off the fees, the towing company or law enforcement agency can sell those cars.

The bill made it out of the Assembly in May and was referred to a Senate committee earlier this month.

According to a study published by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Los Angeles towed 9,400 vehicles and sold 2,500 towed vehicles. San Francisco ordered “more than 42,000 tows and sold more than 5,300 vehicles at lien sales” in 2016, and in California alone, more than 500,000 vehicles are sold at lien sales each year.

Still, some leaders are saying that this bill isn’t the solution to address the region’s housing costs and homelessness crisis.

“The city has an opposed position on this,” said San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis. “It’ll make the city less effective at handling things like stolen vehicles and abandoned vehicles, increase blight, and it will make our citizens more frustrated than they already are.”

Khamis said that the city recognizes that many individuals live in their cars and that local lawmakers have made it easier for those residents through instituted parking programs in several locations around the city and by allowing religious facilities with extra parking spaces to do the same.

“So why allow homeless people to park in front of people’s residences?” added Khamis. “This is not a solution to homelessness and the state’s got to get serious about mental illness and drug addiction. Those are the two major causes of homelessness, and unless we tackle those problems, we’re not going to tackle anything.”

Workers in the towing business also said they’re worried about the effect such a law will have on removing abandoned vehicles on the streets and enforcing the city’s parking rules.

“This is going to impact San Jose’s municipal parking,” said Art Amirkhas, the owner of Morris & Sons Towing.”It could potentially reduce the available parking because if the vehicles can’t be removed, what remedy is going to exist to make sure that we have enough parking?”

Amirkhas said the bill could potentially affect residents’ quality of life.

“If the vehicles can sit longer, presumably, they’re going to accumulate more trash underneath them, they’re going to potentially present a hazard if the city is unable to tow a call. Let’s say it’s got a bunch of broken windows, it’s just sitting out in the street — it could not be well received by residents,” added Amirkhas.

While Amirkhas said it’s important to consider all types of legislation to address the region’s problems, the bill acts as more of a band-aid in addressing the crisis.

“I think it’s a symptom,” he said. “And I’m not sure if the long term or even short term cure is to disable a municipality’s ability to keep the streets clean. This is something that should merit closer examination. I hope that people take it seriously.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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