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‘Very disturbing’: Council to review San Diego towing policy

The San Diego police tow thousands of cars each year that are disproportionately owned by the poor and subsidize this effort up to $2 million a year. The city council’s audit committee wants that to change.

Committee members voted unanimously on Friday to forward to the full city council a recently released performance audit of the city’s towing program, with a plan to rewrite the rules to better serve people and communities. low income families.

“Towing really should be a last resort,” Toufic Tabshouri, a member of the audit committee, said during the hearing. “There should be some sort of notification mechanism (before towing). Even if you can afford to salvage a vehicle and it doesn’t sell, it’s aggravating.

City Auditor Andy Hanau released a report Monday that the San Diego Police Department is losing about $2 million a year in its towing program and cars belonging to the poor are being confiscated much more often.

According to police department practices, officers most often order the towing of cars that have been parked on a city street for more than 72 hours or whose registration is more than six months overdue.

In many cases, owners cannot afford the towing and storage costs, and the cars are then sold at auction.

The audit recommended that city officials consider several ways to reduce the impact on people, such as reducing fees or using alternatives such as placing boots on vehicles.

“While towing provides public benefits, certain types of towing can also disproportionately affect vulnerable populations,” Hanau told the committee.

“For some people, a vehicle tow can result in the permanent loss of their vehicle, loss of a job, loss of access to education and medical care, and other consequences.”

While the number of vehicles towed by the city has fallen in recent years — from 28,000 in 2017 to around 17,000 last year — the number of people who don’t get their cars back is significant.

Hanau said nearly 32,000 towed vehicles were sold at auction between July 2016 and March 2022.

The sales cost both the city and the contractors money because the proceeds do not cover the expenses, the audit found. The cost to San Diego taxpayers is at least $2 million a year, according to the report.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno noted that 45% of the tows took place in District 8 of the council, which she represents.

“It’s very troubling, and I want to make sure the city takes action,” she said. “It’s just an anomaly to me that we subsidize this program, and yet we have a direct impact on people’s livelihoods and lives.”

Councilman Stephen Whitburn, the chairman of the committee that called for the audit in response to complaints from residents, offered to meet with police and other city officials to work out a fairer process going forward.

“Towing is a public good, but it can be harmful to the poor,” he said. “I requested this audit after hearing enforcement stories from people who were losing their vehicles, and wanted to better understand this issue.”

The effort will be coordinated by the District 3 office, Whitburn said, with input from the chief operating officer, police chief and other stakeholders.

No timetable has been set for when specific policy recommendations will be presented to the board.

California Daily Newspapers

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