San Diego Plans More Compassionate Vehicle Towing Policies

by on January 25, 2023 · 0 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

Because a recent audit showed the top two reasons a vehicle in San Diego gets towed typically affect low-income people, San Diego officials are proposing changes to the city’s vehicle towing policies. If adopted, the new policies will be more compassionate than current ones.

The city is exploring:

  • a “text before tow” program,
  • parking “boots,”
  • community service instead of fines,
  • fee forgiveness,
  • income-based payment plans and
  • eliminating tows when the only infraction is failure to pay registration fees.

The 49-page audit found the top two reasons a vehicle gets towed — registrations expired longer than six months, and violations of the 72-hour parking rule on many city streets — typically affect low-income people more than others.

Councilmember Stephen Whitburn is leading the move to make changes with help from City Attorney Mara Elliott. Whitburn said:

“Our towing policy worsens inequities and has devastating impacts on people’s lives. The city should not take people’s cars and sell them to collect small debts or punish people for minor violations.”

David Garrick at the U-T reported:

Montgomery Steppe and her council colleagues stressed that the city won’t stop enforcing abandoned-car laws and other parking violations that diminish quality of life. They will just find a way to avoid disproportionately impacting low-income people.

“If someone has seven cars and one is rusted and it’s been on the street for three years, that’s completely different than a mother living in a car with three children,” she said. “And we should be able, at this point in our society, to differentiate that.”

City officials say another motive for making changes in the city’s towing program, which is led by the Police Department, is that the program is losing roughly $1.5 million a year.

The U-T:

Whitburn said it’s unacceptable that 32,000 cars have been towed and then sold by the city during the past six years, stressing that it most often happens because the owners can’t afford the fines.

“When the city tows your car it goes to an impound lot, and to get the car out of the impound lot, the person who is already struggling to pay the bills has to pay a towing fee, an impound fee and a couple of city fees,” he said.

The audit, released in November, says a vehicle owner typically pays $282 to retrieve their car in San Diego — not including the violation that prompted the tow.

During the five years the audit covers — fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2021 — more than a quarter of all tows resulted in the owner giving the vehicle up instead of paying the fines owed.

The audit says that may be a key reason why the city loses money, explaining that the city rarely recovers its costs in such cases.

The Council is expected to endorse Whitburn’s proposals.


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