An Assembly bill that seeks to end vehicle-towing practices that disproportionately affect low-income people is set to be opposed by Redwood City officials because they say it rewards those who fail to pay parking tickets or otherwise follow reasonable policies and will worsen parking problems.
Sponsored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 516 would specifically eliminate tows when the owner has five or more unpaid parking tickets, when the car registration is more than six months out of date or when a car has been legally parked for over 72 hours.
“Taking a person’s car away will only make a financial situation worse, impede their ability to make a living and exacerbate our homelessness crisis,” Chiu said in a statement. “This bill protects Californians from the most harmful towing practices while also preserving local control that allows local governments to address unique needs in their communities.”
On Monday, the Redwood City Council will consider sending letters opposing the bill to state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco. The item is on the consent agenda.
“The approach in AB 516 rewards people who fail to pay their parking tickets, register their vehicles or adhere to reasonable policies aimed at preventing abandonment and/or street storage of vehicles, regardless of income,” according to the letter signed by Mayor Ian Bain. “Eliminating proportional consequences for these sorts of vehicle violations will exacerbate parking scarcity by creating an environment vulnerable for exploitation. This bill, coupled with efforts by the state aimed at eliminating local parking minimums, will create quality of life concerns across income demographics in California.”
Jen Kwart, communications director for Chiu, said the bill is often misunderstood, especially the 72-hour rule.
“The bill does not make it legal to park somewhere 72 hours, it just says towing shouldn’t be the first response to someone parked illegally,” she said. “Tickets would come first and local governments would still have other mechanisms. You could have your license suspended, wages garnished, tax refunds intercepted — there’re a lot of other stringent mechanisms that local governments can use.”
There’s a provision in the bill that says if a local ordinance conflicts with the law then the local ordinance would take precedent, she added.
“What we’re trying to say is a blanket 72-hour rule across the state doesn’t make sense when you look at how harshly these tows impact low-income people and people who are housing insecure and might be using their vehicles as shelter,” Kwart said.
In California, it typically costs a minimum of $500 to retrieve an impounded car and if the car was towed to collect a debt such as unpaid parking tickets then owners have to pay those debts and cover daily vehicle storage fees which can approach $1,500 before they can get their car back, according to a press release from Chiu’s office.
When a car owner is unable to pay debts or towing fees then local governments and towing companies try to recover the debt by selling the car at a lien sale, but the costs of tow, storage and lien sale fees are often far greater than the amount the vehicle is sold for, according to the release.
“This results in a no-win situation for all parties involved. The car owner has lost one’s largest economic asset and is pushed deeper into poverty,” according to the release. “The tow yard owners must operate at a loss. The local government is unable to collect the original debt that caused the tow.”
If Chiu’s bill passes, Redwood City officials anticipate an increase in the number of uninsured vehicles on the road and a resulting rise in collisions with uninsured drivers, which would shift the economic burden onto the wider community, according to letter. City officials also anticipate an increase in the number of vehicles unable to meet state emission standards, which would contribute to poor air quality, according to the letter.
Over the past decade, Redwood City has also experienced a tenfold increase in reports of vehicles left on the road and Chiu’s bill would “only add to this growing problem and leave the city with few tools left to respond to the legitimate demands of its citizens,” the letter states.
In other business, the council will vote on an attendance policy for its boards, committees and commissions. At the last meeting, the proposed policy sparked a debate about maternity leave, with Councilwoman Giselle Hale calling for up to six months of leave for new mothers. Some of her colleagues felt six months is too long and ultimately agreed to table the item for the upcoming meeting so Mayor Ian Bain, who was absent for the last meeting, can weigh in.
The council will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 24, at City Hall, located at 1017 Middlefield Road.
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