By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Revenues are down sharply for the nine companies that tow cars for the Santa Rosa Police Department, in part because the laws about when police can impound cars have been relaxed.
So the City Council voted Tuesday to increase the rates on those whose cars still get impounded.
One a 4-3 vote, the council hiked the towing charges from $190 an hour to $200, and the daily storage rate from $45 to $55.
Sgt. Rich Celli said that towing companies around the state are dealing with a sharp drop in revenue from changes in state law regarding impounding vehicles for unlicensed or drivers with suspended licenses.
Immigrants rights groups decried laws that allowed vehicles stopped at DUI checkpoints to be impounded for 30 days, costing drivers $2,000 or more. Many just abandoned their vehicles to the tow companies.
But a new law that took effect Jan. 1 requires police to release vehicles taken from sober but unlicensed drivers at DUI checkpoints to a qualified representative of the owner. If one is not available, they must be released to one later at the impound lot.
Celli said companies have seen a 46 percent drop in revenue because of the change. Other reasons for the fee change included consistency with towing rates charged for CHP impoundments and increase fuel costs. If the rates are not increased, then fewer towing companies might participate in the city program, increasing costs further, he said.
Councilman Gary Wysocky said he couldn’t support the increase because it seemed like penalizing citizens who were being more compliant with the law. But the majority supported the change.
“You could argue charging them more would make them more compliant,” Councilman Scott Bartley said.
But Vice Mayor John Sawyer said its not about citizens following the law, but the law being made “kinder and gentler.”
It’s also an issue of towers being paid a fair fee for their services, Sawyer said.
“We want towers to be making a reasonable profit so that they can have employees doing the job we expected from them,” Sawyer said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.