California Bill Would Block Cities From Towing Vehicles Over Unpaid Parking Tickets

California Bill Would Block Cities From Towing Vehicles Over Unpaid Parking Tickets

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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

7/31/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would restrict the warrantless towing of legally parked vehicles due to unpaid parking violations, and while opponents applaud the progress the bill made clearing the Assembly, critics say the proposal would incentivize more people to ignore parking ordinances and citations.
Assembly Bill 1082, authored by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), would require municipalities to secure warrants before towing any vehicles for parking tickets, and would allow those impacted to schedule payment plans not exceeding $25 per month for $500 in fines.
“AB 1082 will help cities actually collect unpaid ticket fees and allow California to continue leading the way in ending poverty tows so that working families can continue to drive to work, pay their rent and bills, and provide for their families,” Mr. Kalra wrote in the legislative analysis (pdf) in support of the bill.
Currently, cities tow vehicles after five unpaid tickets under what is known as the community caretaking exception—as defined in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Cady v. Dombrowski—which gave police officers the right to circumvent Fourth Amendment protections from warrantless searches and seizures under certain circumstances.
The author of the bill says that towing vehicles because of unpaid fines is discriminating against low-income workers and preventing them from providing for their families.
“California has been a national leader in ending policies that disproportionately punish people experiencing poverty, recognizing that these laws do not make individuals more likely to pay but instead trap them in debt and create barriers to financial stability,” Mr. Kalra argued in support of the bill in legislative analyses. “Vehicle tows and immobilizations result in snowballing consequences that threaten people’s stability and well-being, as well as undermine our state’s economic equity goals.”
The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Those impacted by parking fines and registration holds create a financial situation that is difficult to overcome, according to supporters of the bill.
“The impact of excessive debt, license suspensions, towing, and DMV registration holds has had a devastating financial impact on low-income communities,” the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a co-sponsor of the bill, wrote to legislative analysts in support of the bill. “These collective policies have stripped billions of dollars in resources from our poorest families leading to the loss of their vehicle, their ability to get to work, and their ability to meet their basic needs like grocery shopping, taking children to school, or going to medical appointments.”
Parking laws and meters were first introduced between 1932 and 1935 in Oklahoma City, and others across the country soon adopted similar measures designed to reduce congestion, ensure parking availability, and provide access for people with disabilities.
Consultants hired by the Assembly to analyze the bill concluded that “agencies will be left with few effective mechanisms to bolster compliance with posted parking rules.”
The bill cleared the Assembly in May with many Democrat members abstaining from the vote and no Republicans voting in support.
“I opposed AB 1082 due to concerns from law enforcement and local governments. This bill impacts a city’s ability to deal with abandoned or improperly stored vehicles,” Assemblywoman Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach) told The Epoch Times. “Unfortunately, this policy rewards bad actors and eliminates needed consequences to keep our communities running smoothly.”
A homeless encampment in the Venice area of Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A homeless encampment in the Venice area of Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Critics of the bill are adamant that parking citations deter violations, and without the ability to tow for non-payment, more offenders are expected to disobey parking laws, thus impacting efforts to clean and repair streets and, in some cases, harm day-to-day business.
“This legislation will have the unintended consequence of neutralizing parking enforcement efforts,” the California Mobility and Parking Association—a professional forum for the transportation and parking industry—argued against the proposal. “At their fundamental core, parking enforcement programs are designed to ensure compliance of local and state parking regulations to facilitate availability of parking spaces throughout the city, which supports local businesses and events.”
Proponents argue that deterrence does not justify towing vehicles absent a signed warrant. A recent decision (pdf) by the First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding July 21 that towing while claiming the community caretaking exception is in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
“We conclude the exception is inapplicable: it is undisputed that the tows do not involve cars that, due to their location, are presenting any threat to public health or convenience at the time of the tow,” the judgment declared.
The case in question involved the City of San Francisco, and legal experts say the ruling could be equally applied to municipalities across the state, though challenges to the decision are anticipated.
San Francisco ceased towing vehicles for unpaid tickets during the pandemic but resumed the practice in June 2021 with an amended policy that prevented police from towing vehicles that were being used as shelter.
A San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic issues a parking ticket for an illegaly parked car in San Francisco, Calif., on Jan. 21, 2011. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic issues a parking ticket for an illegaly parked car in San Francisco, Calif., on Jan. 21, 2011. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Some residents say the relaxed parking enforcement protocols resulted in widespread abuse.
“Now there are RVs all over the city, trashed cars that never move, and an unsafe atmosphere in general,” Josh Miller, a longtime San Francisco resident, told The Epoch Times. “If nobody has to pay parking tickets anymore, it’s just going to get worse.”
Currently, after five unpaid tickets and multiple written warnings of impending impoundment, California authorities can tow the vehicle and require owners to pay for the violations and seizure costs to reclaim their automobile.
Data provided in the bill’s analysis indicates the majority of vehicles towed are subsequently sold after no payments are made to retrieve the vehicle.
Further complicating matters is the cost of towing and storage as compared to the average value of a vehicle sold after forfeiture.
Average sales prices are approximately $400 less than the cost of recovery, impacting city budgets and leaving approximately $8 billion in unpaid tickets across the state, according to Towed Into Debt, a report published in 2019 by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in the San Francisco Bay Area.
An auditor additionally found in a 2022 report that San Diego spends approximately $1.5 million annually towing and selling vehicles.
The bill now faces the Senate Appropriations Committee once legislative meetings resume in August following the summer recess.
If it passes and is signed into law by the governor, it requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to adjust its program to ensure that customers are billed correctly, and registration holds are accurate.
The agency told committee analysts it needs until 2026 to prepare, and if forced to expedite, costs are expected to reach the “low to multiple millions of dollars.”
A row of parking meters line O'Farrell Street in San Francisco, Calif., on July 3, 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A row of parking meters line O'Farrell Street in San Francisco, Calif., on July 3, 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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