State legislation would help homeless people living in vehicles

A trailer is parked in the industrial part of Lodi Thursday, June 27, 2019.

Despite opposition from local officials, Assembly Bill 516 passed through the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

AB 516, known as the “no-tow bill,” seeks to end vehicle-towing practices that disproportionately affect low-income people, according to Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

The Senate Transportation Committee voted in support of the bill — after receiving revisions on June 18 — with nine votes in favor of the bill, two against and two abstentions.

The aim of the bill is to eliminate towing when the owner has five or more unpaid parking tickets, when vehicle registration is more than six months out of date, or when a vehicle has been legally parked for over 72 hours, which are the current standards for towing, said Chiu, who co-authored AB 516.

The bill would also change the amount of time that cars and RVs could legally be parked on the street — from 72 hours to 10 days — unless the city passes a local ordinance.

The bill is being pitched as a social justice remedy directed at easing the plight of people living in their vehicles, who may not be able to afford to recover them once they are impounded.

“Taking a person’s car away will only make a financial situation worse, impede their ability to make a living and exacerbate our homelessness crisis,” Chiu said in a statement. “This bill protects Californians from the most harmful towing practices while also preserving local control that allows local governments to address unique needs in their communities.”

While the stated intent of AB 516 is to resolve an economic issue and alleviate homelessness, Lodi officials are not convinced this is a viable solution.

“We receive nuisance calls almost every day — if not every day — because of abandoned RVs in the industrial area near South Guild Avenue,” City Manager Steve Schwabauer said.

In recent months, complaints from residents over abandoned RVs have forced the city to forge an agreement with two towing companies willing to tow and recycle the abandoned vehicles, Schwabauer said.

“It costs the city $1,000 to tow RV trailers because they do not have a salvage value, so companies and tow yards do not want to take them, and it costs more to recycle them than their value,” he said.

Chiu said cities could pass their own parking bans in neighborhoods and business complexes to address the growing problem of people living in vehicles parked outside homes and businesses.

“The city already has rules prohibiting people from parking into neighborhoods. Our partner volunteers and code enforcement officers ticket them. Those rules already exist,” Lodi City Attorney Janice Magdich said.

The bill’s focus is directed at public right of ways, Magdich said, which poses both a safety and access issue concern to motorist and public safety officers.

“Imagine a car being parked on Church Street for 10 days straight and all police can do is ticket the vehicle,” she said.

AB 516 could cause bigger problems in cities with the level of street congestion San Francisco and Los Angeles generally see — which is why cities in the Bay Area and Orange County have threatened to pass ordinances that would derail the bill if it is passed.

“I don’t believe this bill is written with exemptions for municipalities,” Magdich said. “Unless there is a clause that allows us to adopt an ordinance, we would be subject to AB 516.”

As the bill is currently written, it would infringe on cities’ rights to create ordinances and eliminate police officers’ authority to remove abandoned or delinquent vehicles from roadways and public streets, said Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce.

As the bill passes through various committees and undergoes legislative review, Senate members will continue to revise and amend the bill, which leaves the possibility of exemptions or other alterations on the table.

If the bill were to adopt a clause allowing for local exemptions it could put the onus on cities to enforce the law and restore local control in its implementation.

Patrick urges residents to contact public officials official and voice their concerns about AB 516.

“Assemblyman Cooper voted ‘no’ on this bill, and for that we are appreciative,” he said. “We brought this bill to CalChamber’s attention in hopes that we can start a coalition in opposition to this ridiculous bill.”

AB 516 is scheduled to go before the Senate Public Safety Committee on July 9.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus