BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 7, 2010
The Beer City: Fullsteam eyes an August 13 opening date

Towing rules to help NC residents -- including, again, Durhamites

Update: BCR reached Sen. McKissick after the story went to press; we've added his view to a second post on the matter.

Folks, a lot of interesting stuff seems to happen in the General Assembly. And all too often, the behind-the-scenes machinations don't make their way into general view. (An exception: Laura Leslie's outstanding blog Isaac Hunter's Tavern; the WUNC-FM statehouse reporter's site is a must-add to your RSS reader if it's not there already.)

But kudos to the N&O for picking up on one very interesting, and possibly worrisome, element happening in the General Assembly.

228The good news: the legislature is contemplating taking steps to crack down on towing practices, which got scrutiny in Durham at least after the owner of a parking lot adjacent to a scooter-and-gun shop (I am not making this up) enforced its asphalt rights strictly, impacting particularly the patrons of a neighboring Indian restaurant.

The bad news: although the rules would help most of the Triangle and Mecklenburg Co. (Charlotte), it would have specifically exempted Durham from the standards -- by the request of Durham's own Floyd McKissick, Jr.

That's been changed, as the Herald-Sun notes in a follow-up story today, after state Rep. Paul Luebke and the City intervened.

But the bizarre part in all this is, it doesn't look like that request to exempt Durham came from City Hall in the first place.

So what, exactly, did state Sen. McKissick have in mind?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Specifically, the N&O notes, the bill under consideration would:

  • Require clearer signage at the entries to parking lots;
  • Limit towing distances to a 15 to 25 mile range;
  • Towers would have to provide written notices of rights to towed car owners, including the right to appeal the tow to a magistrate;
  • Require towers not to require waiver of towed vehicle owners' rights, such as compensation for damages to their car.

Seems pretty logical, right, and something we'd benefit from, right?

Well, as of early June, there'd have been no joy if you're a Durhamite. Per the N&O:

The measure would apply only to a list of cities and mostly urban counties including Wake and Orange, as well as Mecklenburg, [state Sen. Bob] Rucho's home. Durham was cut from Rucho's list before the Senate gave unanimous approval to the bill June 10.

(Kudos to the Char-Meck Republican, by the way, for seeking to bring some control to the often out-of-control towing industry in this state.)

So why the deletion?

BCR called Sen. Rucho's office in the 8am hour on Tuesday, and received a prompt reply: Durham was explicitly stricken from the draft bill at the request of the Bull City's own Floyd McKissick, Jr.

But it wasn't gone for long. According to today's Herald-Sun:

The bill cleared the Senate on June 10. But Luebke got a look at it on July 1 when it came to the House Finance Committee, which he chairs. He noted Durham's omission, wondered about it and called city officials to check on their wishes.

After consultations with city attorneys, they soon sent word they thought the bill would strengthen consumer protections and that they wanted Durham on board.

So Durham's back in the towing rights game.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Still, that doesn't address just what McKissick had in mind here. What exactly led the senator -- whom we've written about here before regarding his strong words on the Falls Lake issue, and whose father's work in civil rights and economic development issues literally touched national politics in the 1960s and 70s -- to oppose the bill?

BCR reached out to McKissick's office over lunch on Tuesday but haven't heard back from him or his office as of this writing.

But the senator told the Herald-Sun that he had concerns over the signage requirements that the bill would create.

McKissick tells the paper that he thinks it could lead to "frivolous and unnecessary" disagreements between towers and the towed, "particularly by people who know" they're on the wrong side of the law.

Yet according to a knowledgeable source in City government, the signage requirement calls only for signs that are at least 24 inches by 24 inches -- though McKissick's told City Hall, too, that he thinks most private towers' signs aren't that big.

And this is where some of the head-scratching comes in on this one.

The H-S notes that Durham municipal officials never requested that the Bull City be dropped from the legislation; that happened on McKissick's initiative. 

And it also notes that the matter didn't come to attention to Paul Luebke until he saw the bill in the house, wondered why Durham had been omitted, and called City Hall.

I hate to slice things too thinly, but the quote above from the Herald-Sun story -- noting that City staff had to consult with the City Attorney's office and mull it over before asking Luebke for the add-back -- suggests that they may not have ever been aware that such a bill was being contemplated.

In other words, Durham officials not only didn't ask for Durham to be deleted, it certainly looks like McKissick's office never reached out to them to ask their thoughts on the matter.

Of course, that's a big assumption into the history here. And the City had also not included towing as one of its concerns in the last couple of years' legislative agenda item wishlists, insofar as a quick search of the City website could find. Perhaps the senator didn't know they'd be interested?

We'll update this story if we hear back more from the senator's office today. 

Sen. McKissick tells BCR that he reached out to City Hall a month ago to get their opinion on how to proceed, citing the removal of Durham as a temporary hold pending the municipality's wishes -- and that he didn't hear back until just this week on their desire to be included in the bill. More on this in a separate post.

Comments

got steel?

A scooter/gun shop combo is not all that unusual. Historically, guns and bikes have been sold together. Guns and bikes are metal tubes, they went quite well together from a raw materials standpoint.

JB

It's interesting that this article follows on the heels of your Falls Lake coverage. I think the new parking rules are a good idea, but it also leaves me wanting for some additional attention paid to the benefits of sharing parking lots. If we're trying to reduce polluted stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, why not encourage the shared use of parking lots as a way to reduce the need to build more of them? In the instance of the scooter/Indian store issue, much of the restaurant business occurred after hours when the parking lot wasn't being used by the scooter store. I think the restaurant's response was to build more parking spaces in back of their restaurant, adding to Durham's impervious surfaces. I wish there was a way to encourage private shared-use lots and discourage businesses from enforcing their lots after-hours when there is an obvious need that wouldn't affect the owner's business. (We could also start encouraging permeable parking lots that allow stormwater infiltration, but that's a whole other issue.)

G

The original story was a farce to begin with. These people knowingly parked in a lot marked with signage warning them of the consequences of doing so.

If the restaurant needed additional parking so badly, then the restaurant owner could have approached the scooter shop about PAYING to lease spaces. Instead, they likely turned a blind eye to their customers parking on another person's property so they could sell another meal without the added expense of providing enough parking.

When will the rights of the property owner EVER be acknowledged over the crying of some rule/law bending/breaking whiners???


Tar Heelz dotcom

Most likely explanation is that the lobbyist for the Towing & Recovery Professionals of North Carolina reached Sen. McKissick on behalf of a Durham member.

Dan S.

Maybe Senator McKissick figures that with unrestricted towing in Durham, there will be fewer cars on the road to inhibit his ability to do 25-over the limit, while straddling the center lane in his Porsche Boxter.

http://dependableerection.blogspot.com/2010/05/state-senator-23.html

http://geerfarmhouse.posterous.com/conduct-unbecoming

Greg Son

Who wants to look at the campaign finance reports for McKissick and the Durham Committee. Because there are two likely scenarios here, based on his past conduct:

McKissick is getting money from tow truck operators in Durham -- or some other favor. And if not from tow truck company owners, then from the people who own parking lots where they want people towed from pronto.

Either the parking lot or tow truck company owners belong to the Durham Committee and have enough sway to ask McKissick for this personal favor under the threat of the Committee withdrawing their endorsement of him.

Personally, I'm voting for Option #1. He's getting something out of it.

Shelly Green, DCVB

I'd like to add my 2 cents to the discussion by noting how this affects visitors. When you are in an unfamiliar city, trying to read street signs, watch the cars in front of you on the road and search the businesses along the side to find a particular restaurant or other business, it can be challenging, to say the least. (Not to mention that street names change mid-stream and we have an amusing habit of naming things with similar names, i.e. Chapel Hill Street, Chapel Hill Boulevard, etc.)

I have heard from visitors who have missed seeing the signs (and yes, some of them are very small) as they are juggling all of those things in unfamiliar territory, so don't assume people who park in unauthorized lots are "knowingly" and "wilfully" breaking the law.

But my biggest concern on the matter is what happens when the visitor discovers the mistake. Typically they aren't refuting that they parked illegally.

Consider these points from a recent visitor who wrote to me:

- Those signs typically contain the towing company's name and phone number - no address of where your car has been taken.
- Visitors typically will not know someone locally who can take them to the tow lot, so they are left to figure out how to get a taxi, not having a clue where the tow lot is or how much it will cost to get there.
- Many tow companies do not accept checks or credit cards..only cash, resulting in an even longer cab ride (and higher fare) to find an ATM to withdraw enough cash.
- This visitor, in particular, was treated poorly by the towing company person (who swore at her numerous times.) She was told that if she didn't "shut her mouth" she wouldn't get her car back (that's the PG rated version.)
- This towing company did not have published rates anywhere on the premesis...just an irate employee demanding a $200 towing fee and $35 storage fee. If this were you, wouldn't you be suspicious that you were being taken advantage of? Remember this is a cash deal only.
- Other cities (Chapel Hill and Raleigh, for example) have passed regulations that require limiting the total cost of towing to $100; requiring towing companies to take debit or credit cards; limiting the "storage fee"; requiring all spaces that you can be towed from to be clearly labeled; etc.

So, there are some other sides to this issue that are relevant. I feel like it is good to have these regulations in place.

Kevin Davis

@G: These rules came up not because of the Durham restaurant/scooter-gun store fracas, but because of abuses the Republican state senator in question saw in the Charlotte area. They parallel the kind of problems mentioned in Shelly Green's comments.

@Greg, TH: I didn't mention this in the story because nothing came of it, but before publication BCR did review all of McKissick's public filings in the state campaign finance database. We saw no donations from individuals with known/knowable links to Durham towing concerns. But that doesn't factor in parking lot owners, attorney, or lobbyist donations -- or TH's suggestion that a lobbyist for said organization simply (with no donation at all) reached out to the senator.

Kevin Davis

We've updated this story with links to Sen. McKissick's response on the matter:

http://www.bullcityrising.com/2010/07/mckissick-durhams-towing-bill-removal-was-temporary-to-await-city-feedback-late-in-arriving.html

G

It somehow always gets turned into kickback/political favor issues, poor visibility, anything except laying responsibility at the feet of the people parking in no parking areas.

People read parking signs on public streets (which are among the most confusing out there) but shift the issue to a private lot and the property owner AND THEIR PREFERENCE FOR THE USE OF THEIR LAND, gets thrown in the backseat.

If you're going to start calling out hard to understand signage, how about start with the City and County where your taxes go to fund muddled signage. How many of you know that the 2-hour parking limit on Blackwell is a per-day rule, not per space? You cannot move to another space for another 2 hours if one is open - you will get a ticket if you do. Where is that posted for ANYONE to read and understand??

Since so many of you seem to think that private property rights are secondary to a perceived public need, how about list your home addresses so we can start parking there...

GreenLantern

Oh, the poor visitor, for whom we are to be required by statute to hold hands with and intervene on their behalf when the mean old property owner slips a bit of foul language!

GIVE ME A BREAK! This is such total nonsense, and just one more attempt to legislate behavior and make property owners yield to irresponsible consumers, who don't have the time to thoroughly look around their parking spot for signs. Signs which in ALL cases, are there.....YES, they are always there somewhere if one hangs up their cell phone, stops to look around, and ask themselves the question "Could I get towed for this?"

The taxpayers are constantly paying MILLIONS for clearer signs that point the way for the lost souls who don't know the cardinal directions from the sun's position, who can't read maps, or whose GPS is broken and can't make their way anywhere without step by step instructions. All because they are too lazy to plan ahead, or too busy to read signs more complicated than the picture buttons on a McDonald's cash register.

Erik Landfried

These regulations seem pretty sensible to me.

If the Towing and Recovery Professionals of North Carolina, the organization that (according to their website) is designed to protect and promote the welfare of those engaged in the towing and recovery business in North Carolina, are in support of this bill, what's the problem here?

Writing just to be a blowhard is not interesting.

Michael

This situation with towing cars parked on "private property" and then holding the car hostage is nothing more than "ambulance chasing" I have actually seen these tow services driving around looking for cars to tow. If you park on public streets illegally then you get a ticket why should these private spots be any different, towing a vehicle that has been parked there for a relatively short period of time is rediculous and that is the case in most cases. I agree that these signs can be very hard to spot and if its after hours it is a very difficult and dangerous situation, especially if it were your wife or child wandering around trying to locate their car, it will only take one big law suit from an injury or death to stop this possibly unlawful practice.

Kelly

What if someone parked on your private property (your driveway) without your permission? You don't want then there becuase you don't know them and they are not your guest. You don't have the proper 24 x 24 sign displayed at the bottom of your driveway. You call the police and they won't do anything because the car is parked on private property and hasn't been left there long enough to be considered abandoned. If you call a tow truck company you can be held liable in one way or the other if you have the car towed or the company refuses to tow it. So, you just leave it there and let this deadbeat and anyone else that wants to take advantage and get away with tresspassing. Oh yeah, that's right, owning private property and the law are only in place to protect the criminals, violators and irresponsible people that don't care, not your averge law abiding, tax paying property owner. Ignorance of the law (rules) doesn't excuse you from them. You park where you are not supposed to or because you are lazy and don't want to park somewhere else and walk, you get towed. Suck it up.


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