California Court Rules Cars Can’t Be Towed For Unpaid Parking Tickets
On July 21, the California Court of Appeals reversed San Francisco’s law, with a 3-0 decision. The court used a 1976 Supreme Court ruling as precedent:
Image: Liz Hafalia (AP)
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In a tone-deaf statement, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu called the ruling disappointing. In defense of the law, he says the court’s decision “further impedes the City’s ability to maintain safe and healthy streets.”
If you live in California, namely the San Francisco Bay, and you owe on a bunch of parking tickets, you just got a huge break. CBS News reports the California Court of Appeals has ruled that towing over owed parking tickets violates the state’s constitution.
In the ruling, Justice Mark Simons wrote 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.” An attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area Zal Shroff called the practice “stealing.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that law enforcement officers can remove vehicles from the streets that are interfering with traffic or posing a threat to public safety. But the appeals court said San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency’s “policy of towing safely and lawfully parked vehicles without a warrant based solely on the accrual of unpaid parking tickets” does not meet the 1976 standard.
See, when the vehicles get towed, the city screws owners twice: Not only are they responsible for paying the total amount of parking fees they owe, they also have to pay for daily storage fees. If the owner is unable to pay, which usually happens, the vehicles are sold at auctions.
The move by the court follows a rule San Francisco city officials implemented in 2018. The city began towing cars that had five or more parking tickets and hadn’t responded to the city’s notices within 21 days. To onlookers, these cars appeared perfectly fine as they were parked legally on city streets. But the city towed them anyway. Over the last five years thousands of vehicles have been towed. Proponents of the law called it “heartless and unauthorized” while nonprofits claimed it targeted low income people.