Civil Rights and Legal Aid Groups Demand End to City’s Unconstitutional Towing Practices

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For Immediate Release

News from LCCR – SF Bay Area and Bay Area Legal Aid: Groups issue letter to City Attorney over violation of low-income people’s 4th Amendment rights

Contact: Taylor Brady, TBrady@baylegal.org, (510) 250-5234; Matt Kovac, mkovac@lccr.com, (415) 510-9601

SAN FRANCISCO – One day after a federal court ordered the City of San Francisco to return an impounded car to its homeless owner, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, represented by Bay Area Legal Aid and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, is demanding that the City immediately cease towing and impounding vehicles over unpaid parking tickets unless the City determines the owner is financially able to pay.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Bay Area Legal Aid issued a letter {LINK} to City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera this morning demanding an end to the current towing policy, citing Monday’s ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In that decision, a federal judge found that there is no legal precedent for seizing a vehicle when its owner cannot afford to pay the tickets and ordered the return of Sean Kayode’s car. The ruling could mark a turning point for the 1,000 people currently living in their cars in San Francisco.

“The City is taking and selling the cars of low-income people across the city simply because they cannot afford to pay parking tickets. We call on the City to end its current towing policy and adopt a constitutional, common-sense approach to collecting on tickets that does not punish low-income people,” said Elisa Della-Piana, LCCR legal director.

The City tows over 4,000 cars a year solely for unpaid tickets. With 78 percent of Californians driving to work, and many low-wage jobs requiring a car, the current policy has the practical effect of forcing people like Mr. Kayode – a delivery driver – out of work and onto the streets. This costs the city money through increased spending on benefits, homeless shelters, and emergency services.

“No one wins under the City’s current towing practices,” said Rebekah Evenson, Director of Litigation at Bay Area Legal Aid. “Poor people lose their cars without any opportunity to show that they couldn’t afford to pay.  Residents of the City lose, with increased poverty and homelessness. And the City loses financially: the value of these cars rarely covers the cost of tow and storage, and the cars are often sold at a loss. It’s time for reform.”

The City Attorney has until Friday, October 19 to respond.

Read the full demand letter here.

Read about the preliminary injunction here.

Media coverage:

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