(TUESDAY UPDATE: There’s a Thursday briefing at City Hall – agenda here)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Right after the Seattle City Council returns from its summer break post-Labor Day, a new set of rules will be proposed and is likely to generate intense debate.
It’s a proposal to change city rules to cap fees charged for “involuntary towing from private property” – also known as “private impounds” – announced a month ago by Mayor McGinn and Councilmember Nick Licata.
The actual package of proposed rules itself was not made public at the time of that announcement. In fact it was not finished and published until a few days ago (when we checked last month, a Licata staffer told WSB they were “tweaking it before we formally introduce it”). It’s now on the city website – see all the specifics here. The key points include:
A. Towing service fee: The maximum hourly fee that tow companies may charge for towing service for private impounds shall be no more $209 for the first hour and $130.60 for the second and subsequent hours for tows conducted with a Class A, D, or E tow truck. …
4. The hourly fee must be applied to the resulting net time and, after the first hour, must be rounded to the nearest fifteen minutes. …
B. Uncompleted tow fee: Tow companies may charge no more than the maximum hourly towing service fee specified in subsection 6.214.220.A for an uncompleted tow. Beginning with the first hour, no more than one quarter of the hourly fee may be charged for each fifteen minutes of towing service work performed. Reimbursement for time spent on an uncompleted tow can only be computed from the time of dispatch to the time the car is released to the vehicle operator.
C. Storage fee: The maximum storage fee that tow companies may charge for storing a private impound vehicle shall be no more than $15.50 for each 12-hour increment. …
D. After hours release fee: The maximum fee that a tow company may charge to release a privately impounded vehicle outside of normal business hours may not exceed $100. …
If it passes and does what the mayor and councilmember suggest it would, it might prevent future cases like that of a West Seattle woman who told WSB she lost her car three times – first and second times to a car thief, then, finally, to a towing/impound bill she couldn’t afford.
The victim, who asked not to be identified, reported her car stolen in June – for the second time. Just over two weeks later, she got a call from the city saying it had been found and towed. The towing company told her it had been sitting in a SODO nonprofit’s parking lot for two weeks, and that company finally called for it to be towed. They didn’t call police first, according to the car’s owner. But they did call police after the car already had been turned over to the towing company; SPD confirmed it was stolen, and contacted her, also saying they “found needles in the car and that I should be very careful when I get the car back and go through it.” (The writing on the car’s window in the top photo references “niddles/biohazzard” [sic].)
She says the fee quoted to her to get the car (towed about one mile from where it was found) was $542 – out of her reach. So, she says, the company “was quick to tell me I can bring my title in and transfer the car over to them.” They even said they were giving her a deal, because usually, they said, they would still expect half the bill to be paid, even with the car being handed over. But, they said, weekend personnel had misinformed her, so they would simply accept the car.
Adding insult to injury, she says the police report had a note to contact her if the car was found, and NOT to tow it – though by the time police heard about it, apparently it was too late.
The Seattle proposal comes on the heels of a failed push for statewide caps. Some state legislators, including the 34th District’s State House Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, tried taking on the issue last session. He was a co-sponsor of HB 2372, which stalled after approval in the House.
Asked what happened, Fitzgibbon recalls, “Throughout the session we saw a frequent back-and-forth between the towing industry, which was willing to accept a cap if the cap was relatively high and imposed statewide, precluding local governments from imposing lower caps, and the city of Seattle, which wanted above all to have the authority to set its own cap lower than the state if it so chose. The bill we passed out of the House Transportation Committee was supported by the towing industry but not Seattle, and the bill we passed out of the House was supported by Seattle but not the towing industry. It ultimately died in the Senate because these two parties could not come to an agreement. My view was that either approach (a statewide cap or one that allows local governments the ability to set a lower cap) would be preferable to the current situation.”
So now, the city of Seattle is taking aim. The proposal is on the council’s introduction-and-referral calendar for Tuesday afternoon; it is to be referred to the Government Performance and Finance Committee, but is not on that committee’s agenda for Wednesday, so the first discussion will be at least two weeks away.
TUESDAY UPDATE: We’ve since been informed that the committee has a special extra meeting this week, and the towing bill will be discussed at the second meeting – 2 pm Thursday; agenda here.