Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Escondido, California: A Firestorm Is A-Brewing Over Abusive And Predatory Towing

Flickr.com photo, firestorm in Escondido

According to this article, towing companies in Escondido are making so much money from seizing vehicles that they are prepared to pay the city government $100,000 a year for a hunting license.

Working class people and illegal immigrants from Mexico make up the vast majority of auto owners whose vehicles are seized...

It is a pure money grab, according to critics. (Critics with law degrees)

The towing is happening as a result of checkpoints designed to catch unlicensed drivers. The checkpoints generate millions for the city, and also millions for the towing companies because there is--check this out!--a "minimum 30 day storage fee" which costs $1,200 or more. The 30-day requirement is rooted in state law. Checkpoints are set up roughly twice a month, according to Escondido police.

Civil rights attorneys are up in arms and, well, they should be. Though an issue like this will generate a heated debate about unlicensed drivers (very bad) and uninsured drivers (arguably even worse) and even the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, the real injustice is charging so much to store a vehicle. What does the vehicle NEED which requires $1,200 a month? Breakfast in bed?

When the business is acting at the behest of government, the cost of storing a vehicle should be the ACTUAL COST, and then maybe a little more so the business can make a profit and have an incentive to do business with the government. What Escondido has done is basically issue a "hunting license" for cars and their owners.

And that's wrong. Even if the owners have played a role in having their cars seized in the first place--and, obviously, they have--this situation is still extortion.

The numbers provided by the article tell the tale: Four towing companies have contracted with the city for the right to haul away, gut, skin and dress--um, I mean IMPOUND--the vehicles. From 2004 to 2007, they paid $37,500 a year for a hunting license. This year they're happy to pay $75,000. Next year, they'll pay $100,000.

This is a real switch, it appears, on the situation in some cities where THE CITIES PAY MONEY TO THE TOWING COMPANIES FOR THEIR SERVICES. One's first thought is: well, if all the towing companies had to pay money to tow, maybe they wouldn't tow so abusively. But Escondido shows that's not true at all. These companies are willing to pay as much as $100k for the opportunity to squeeze even more out of citizens.

(Or, well, non-citizens, too)

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