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San Diego Moves Closer To Bringing In Sweeping Parking Changes

City has lost $1.5 million for each of the last six years due to issues with the towing program

By Evan Symon, January 25, 2023 8:08 pm

The city of San Diego moved closer to bringing in sweeping towing changes on Wednesday following new reports that the city is losing $1.5 million due to lost fees and fines.

For several years, strict parking rules in San Diego, specifically street parking signs that list odd times that can vary by street, have been  racking up fees for many residents in the city. Parking enforcement agents have been especially tenacious in giving fines, with the city even towing and auctioning off 32,000 vehicles in the past six years.

However, the strict street parking times have angered residents in the city across the income spectrum. Lower income residents have said that fees can rack up quickly and eat into funds usually slotted for needs such as food and rent. Homeless residents have charged the program with towing vehicles in which they live, moving many onto the street and worsening the problem in the city. Wealthy residents also have issues with the program, as fees can go into the thousands within a matter of days, and that street parking is often needed due to many families having more than one car.

Adding to the issue is that, according to a November audit by the city, the fine and towing program have hurt lower-income residents even worse due to many having unpaid parking tickets or out of date registrations, causing the number of towed vehicles to go up. As vehicle auctions don’t make up for the fines, the city has been found to be losing $1.5 million a year in lost income. With the city facing projected budget deficits in the next several years, the lost income only makes the problem even worse. As a result, many city officials are looking to either end or curb in the towing program.

“We ought not to be doing that to people,” said Councilman Stephen Whitburn in a statement on Wednesday. “They shouldn’t tow and sell somebody’s car because that could send that person into a downward spiral. That is a punishment that is way disproportionate to the matter at hand.”

“When the city of San Diego tows somebody’s car, they may have trouble getting to work. And if they can’t pay the rent and they lose their apartment, well, now they’re part of the homeless population, and then the city of San Diego is spending tens of thousands of dollars to try to get them back into housing.”

“We ought not to be doing that to people. They shouldn’t tow and sell somebody’s car because that could send that person into a downward spiral. We’re not giving people a free pass, and there do have to be consequences for breaking the rules. But the consequences shouldn’t lead to homelessness.”

Members of the public affected by the laws also pushed for change on Wednesday.

“We need to end this,” explained San Diego resident Julio Mendez, who helps organize early warning networks to warn residents of incoming tow trucks, to the Globe on Wednesday. “Right now, there are some people organizing when the ticketing and towing people are coming so that people can move their cars in time, like an early warning system. Some neighbors who work from home are given keys so that they can move cars during the restricted times. It’s been an effort here. There are some people making $30,000 a year getting thousands in fines a year here. That’s not right. That hurts. So anything that stops the towing and the fines, at least to some degree is needed.

On Wednesday, new ideas currently in development were announced, including a citywide text messaging system warning drivers that their car is in danger of being towed, as well as installing parking boots on wheels of cars until fines are paid.

“Yeah, those would be preferable,” added Mendez. “The fines are still terrible, but it would save a lot of people a trip to the impound lot and another added fine there.”

As of Wednesday, there is still no definite date of when the proposed changes will come into service.

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Evan Symon
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