Disproportionate Impact Tows are 3 to 5 times more likely to result in a lien sale than other tows.
In FY 2017, San Diego contracted with companies for towing and impound services and established towing and storage rates for vehicle owners that disproportionately impact the city’s vulnerable populations. Disproportionate Impact Tows–tows resulting from expired registration over six months, 72-hour parking violations, and five or more unpaid parking citations–have made up 27 to 40 percent of tows yearly from 2017 to 2021. Vehicle owners have 10 days to protest a tow and 15 days to pay their citations or registration fees, in addition to fees for towing and storage. The Office of the City Auditor (OCA) conducted a performance audit of the San Diego Police Department’s (SDPD) vehicle towing process by reviewing the financial, public safety, and policy impacts the program had on the City and its residents from FY2017 to FY2022. The audit found the program needs more transparency by reporting on the programs’ outcomes, impacts on residents, and potential to tow policies. California authorizes local jurisdictions to tow vehicles and to regulate towing in their jurisdiction, which allows the City of San Diego to alter its towing practices like other municipalities that have implemented alternative models.
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- Impound providers can auction low-value unclaimed cars after 15 days at a lien sale.
- The towing program is at a deficit, and the City subsidizes the towing program by nearly $1.5 million.
- The primary reasons for towing are expired registration tags over six months and 72-hour parking violations.
- 14 percent of impounded vehicles in the city are not released for seven or more days from impound.
- Districts 4 and 8 have the second and third lowest median household incomes in San Diego at $50,000 and $57,000, respectively; they experienced 10 and 16 percentage points more Disproportionate Impact Tows than the city average of 29 percent.
- San Diego is projected to lose over $300,000 in FY2023 from lien sales that fall short of the fees owed to the city.
- SDPD should provide a comprehensive report on the towing programs operation, such as:
- Volumes of tows, the number of cars impounded yearly, the number of vehicles sold per reason, and impoundment by location.