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  Policy Change for Vehicle Towing in Richmond
July 22, 2011

See the Contra Costa Times story below, “Richmond vice mayor's tow truck battle changes policy, and:

The Contra Costa Times story is reasonably accurate but is not clear about a couple of points:

  • There was no written policy, law or regulation that required the police to allow the tow to proceed after the vehicle owner showed up and offered to move it. The cadet, the patrol sergeant and the tow truck operator were all in error.
  • When I initially arrived and asked the cadet to contact her supervisor, the car had not yet been touched by the tow truck operator.

Never again in Richmond will an otherwise law-abiding citizen have to look helplessly on while his or her vehicle is towed away as pure punishment for a parking violation in addition to receiving a citation. A new written Police Department policy will be issued that includes for a police tow the procedures described in California Vehicle Code Section 22658 for a vehicle on private property. Subparagraph 22658 (g)(B) of states:
Upon the request of the owner of the vehicle or that owner's agent, the towing company or its driver shall immediately and unconditionally release a vehicle that is not yet removed from the private property and in transit.
Subparagraph 22658 (h) states:
(h) A towing company may impose a charge of not more than one-half of the regular towing charge for the towing of a vehicle at the request of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession of the private property pursuant to this section if the owner of the vehicle or the vehicle owner's agent returns to the vehicle after the vehicle is coupled to the tow truck by means of a regular hitch, coupling device, drawbar, portable dolly, or is lifted off the ground by means of a conventional trailer, and before it is removed from the private property.
The City of Richmond entered into Contract 21000161 (Tow Contract) with A & D Towing on July 1, 2009, which incorporates the provisions of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) standard Tow Services Agreement (TSA). Although the contract with A & D Towing (http://ca-richmond2.civicplus.com/DocumentView.aspx?DID=5047) expired on June 30, 2010, both the City and A&D Towing have implicitly extended it by continuing to do business. Paragraph 16(A) states:
While involved in CHP rotation tow operations or related business, the tow operator and/or employee shall refrain from any acts of misconduct including but not limited to, any of the following: 1) rude or discourteous behavior.
Under Richmond Municipal Code Section 7.72.040, the Chief of Police may suspend or revoke any police tow operator's permit issued under Section 7.72.030, and the city council is authorized to suspend or revoke any franchise granted pursuant to Section 7.72.035, upon any of the following conditions:
(a)        If the operator or his agent or employee violates any of the conditions of Sections 7.72.50 or 7.72.070 or of the regulations promulgated under Section 7.72.100… Such suspension or revocation shall be made only after a hearing by the chief of police, in the case of any such permit, and by the city council in the case of an exclusive franchise, upon at least twenty days' written notice of the hearing to the permittee or franchisee. Such notice may be mailed to the permittee or franchisee at the last known address thereof and the twenty days' notice shall commence as of the date of mailing.

The conditions of the contract with A & D Towing constitute “regulations” referred to in 7.72.100. The Chief of police will conduct a hearing to determine if A&D Towing engaged in “rude or discourteous behavior,” and if so, should have their contract suspended or revoked.

Since the Police Department is taking action to deal with these issues, I have removed my request that they be taken up by the City Council.

Richmond vice mayor's tow truck battle changes policy

By Karl Fischer
Contra Costa Times
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

Posted: 07/21/2011 03:28:01 PM PDT
Updated: 07/21/2011 03:28:52 PM PDT

Farmers markets rarely generate much in the way of police calls, but Richmond dispatchers know to take nothing for granted.
"I've got an emergency here in Point Richmond," the caller reported. "This is Tom Butt. I'm the vice mayor of Richmond."
Butt phoned while stopping a tow truck with his body last week at the Point Richmond Farmers' Market. A police cadet would not cut loose an illegally parked car, though its owner beat the tow.
Now Butt wants justice, and possibly heads.
"Look, this is not about me. The victim here is the woman whose car was towed away," Butt said this week, "because of a confluence of bad policy and rude behavior."
Butt, who writes a widely read electronic newsletter, published more than 100 compliments received from subscribers after he chronicled the July 13 encounter. He also prompted policy change: Police will now let the car go if the driver beats the tow, Chief Chris Magnus said.
"I am fine with changing the practice, but we have to be fair to the tow operators as well," Magnus said. "Everyone has their own ideas about what makes sense and what is fair."
The incident had another outcome: Future city contracts will require sensitivity training for all tow truck drivers, both Butt and Magnus confirmed. Really.
Butt also hopes to ban the tow company from future city work. He will bring the request to City Council next week.
"If they cancel our contract, I will have to lay off five people," said Chris Tallerico, manager of A&D Tow. "It's that simple."
During a meeting with A&D and city officials, Butt said he would withdraw his proposed ban in exchange for apology letters to him and the driver, and a full refund.
Tallerico, meanwhile, said his driver followed police instructions -- with the tow order in hand, he could not legally release the car. And the requested letters could expose the company legally.
He considers the offer extortion. "It's like he put a gun to my head," Tallerico said.
Butt said he hopes to change the "tough guy" culture of the towing industry. Readers of the Tom Butt E-Forum also feel little empathy for car-haulers, if anonymous responses published by Butt are any indication.
"I think the city should not negotiate a contract with those pirates," wrote one. "The tow industry in this entire state is a travesty. Look at the CHP magazine. Who advertises? Tow pirates. They are scum."
E-Forum readers empathized with the driver of the green 2001 Camry, who met a 21-year-old police cadet when she returned to her parking place at 2:13 p.m.
The cadet said she was too late -- the tow was coming, and she could not leave.
That bothered the driver, but she understood, Magnus said. Police dispatch recordings show that the manager of the Point Richmond Farmers Market, which sets up each Wednesday on Park Place, called because the car blocked a vendor's stall.
The city placed sawhorses announcing the tow zone, and the market manager went door to door along Park to warn customers.
Nobody came, so the cadet called for a tow.
As the tow driver pulled the Camry up on his flatbed, the cadet explained to the owner how to retrieve the car from the tow yard -- for about $300, after all fees.
About then, Butt arrived.
"He kept saying, 'I'm the vice mayor. I'm the vice mayor.' Like he was throwing his weight around," tow driver Marc Marshall said.
Butt told the cadet he was the vice mayor, and that he needed the tow stopped. He offered his business card.
The cadet declined, so Butt asked for a supervisor. While she radioed, Butt also called police dispatch for the watch commander.
Marshall, meanwhile, wanted to leave. "I was really busy, and I needed to get to storage," he said.
So he tried, over Butt's protestations. And Butt stepped in front of the truck.
"I can tell you what," Butt said, while still on the phone with a police dispatcher. "He'll have to run me down if he wants to go anywhere."
"I just said, 'Sir, please get away from my truck.' I said it three times, and I made sure I said 'please,'" Marshall said. "I even voted for that guy, you know?"
Police say the car owner turned to the cadet and asked who the man was. Apparently she was not listening.
Butt eventually moved and the truck left, moments before a patrol sergeant arrived to receive the vice mayor's complaints.
The sergeant told the vice mayor that he had some discretion to stop a tow in progress, but since the truck had already left, he knew of nothing that recommended it.
He does now.
"Being fair to everyone is a delicate, maybe impossible, balancing act," Magnus said. "Towing cars is a powder keg issue. Everyone feels strongly about it and everyone has absolute certainty that their views are the only correct ones on this topic."
Contact Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/kfischer510.