The City of San Diego’s Audit Committee is pushing for more changes to the city’s towing policy, which is under the direction of the San Diego Police Department. The audit found “the towing program has significant financial, equity, and quality of life implications for the City and its residents.”
The audit aimed to look at the financial, equity and public benefits of the city’ towing program, and view how the city monitors and evaluates contractor’s performances.
A city audit found the towing policy can disproportionately impact low-income residents. There has been concern about the city’s towing program and its impacts on low-income residents in San Diego. There has also been concern regarding the lack of information the city council and the public receive about the program.
“I am concerned about the impacts of this on our residents,” said Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, Chair of the Audit Committee. “I requested the audit after hearing stories of residents actually losing their vehicles after they were towed and impounded for parking violations.”
On Friday, the city’s audit committee voted unanimously to bring the audit to council for further review and a push for change.
The City auditor said while towing is a public benefit, it has also shown to have disproportionate impacts.
The audit found SDPD authorizes about 20,000 tows a year and the top two towing reasons are expired registration over six months and 72-hour parking violations.
According to the auditor’s report, a vehicle owner whose car is towed will pay a minimum of $282, but the price will go up if the car is stored for more than one day and can reach up to $500 in a week. The storage fee is $41 per day. If the vehicle is not picked up within 15 to three days, the vehicle can be sold at a lien sale.
“The people that are disproportionatly hurt by having their cars towed, don’t really have a voice with what happens to their property,” Toufic Tabshouri, a member of the Audit Committee, said.
“I will also say members of the working poor are disproportionally affected, but I will also say members of the military are,” Tabshouri said. “I remember being in the Navy many, many years ago and you could get called to go out on the ship for a week or so and if you didn’t think about moving your car or putting in on base, you would come back and your car wouldn’t be there.”
“The city should not be subsidizing this program in any significant way,” Vivian Moreno, the vice-chair of the Audit Committee said.
“We found that SDPD has implemented strong controls over the towing program, and these controls help ensure that SDPD staff and the various tow and impound providers the city contracts with are operating the towing program in compliance with various laws and city policies,” said Hanau. So that’s good news and leaves the question of what the impacts the city’s current towing policies are.”
The city auditor said it is important for SDPD to periodically and comprehensively report on the program. According to the auditor’s report during Friday’s meeting, however, SDPD has not done that in nearly a decade.
“As it stands, SDPD has not done a comprehensive report on the program since 2013,” Hanau said.
The auditor’s officer presented two findings:
Finding 1: “The city should strengthen the public oversight and transparency of the vehicle towing program by publicly reporting on the program’s outcomes, impacts to residents, and potential revisions to tow policies and practices.”
The city then offered the following recommendations:
-SDPD should present a comprehensive report on the towing program
-SDPD should work with the city to present a new policy
-SDPD should compile and report information to the city council for towing program policy options
The city auditor said SDPD agreed to the first recommendation, but not the third.
Finding 2: “Internal oversight of the towing program is strong and SDPD should continue to conduct performance evaluations in compliance with the city’s contract guide.”
The city said during the audit they found SDPD was not completing the evaluations, but has since started to conduct the evaluations again. The city offered one recommendation:
-SDPD should continue to conduct quarterly performance evaluations for its towing and impound contractors and submit them for monitoring.
The audit also offered alternative towing models for the city to consider, including texting before towing the vehicle or placing a “boot” on the vehicle. These methods are both used in San Francisco, waiving fees for extenuating circumstance or changing the rates to charge different rates for different tow reasons. There would be more expensive administrative fees for criminal offenses, which is used in Oceanside.