A bill introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in the House of Representatives this week would clear the way for states and localities to take full legislative authority over regulating the towing industry.
Tow trucks were classified federally as “interstate carriers,” in 1994, putting its regulation under federal oversight, preempting state and local towing laws.
A year later, according to Moran’s office, Congress legislated away the regulatory body that oversaw the industry, leaving it vulnerable to predatory towing without consequences.
Moran’s bill, if passed, would remove the federal preemption and bring towing regulation fully under state and local control.
“Our state and local governments are the most logical places to regulate towing and many already have an established body of law in place to do so,” Moran said in a statement. “This bill would bring those laws back into effect by removing federal preemption and allow state and local governments the ability to establish common-sense, pro-consumer towing protections for their residents.”
Moran’s announcement of the bill — called H.R. 4131, the “State and Local Predatory Enforcement Act” — comes less than two weeks after Arlington passed a new set of towing regulations aimed at protecting car owners, while raising the trespass towing fee car owners must pay to $135.
Moran co-sponsored an amendment in 2005 that gave states and localities some towing oversight, but some governments were still open to liability with their towing laws. If Moran’s bill passes, that would no longer be the case.
“Representative Moran has long been a champion on this and many other issues important to state and local governments,” Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said in the press release. “Dating back to 1994, he has worked to make certain we have the ability to enact common-sense, pro-consumer trespass towing protections for our residents and visitors. Arlington County’s towing ordinance is in place and successful today because of his efforts, and we thank him for the introduction of this legislation to remove the last vestiges of federal preemption.”
The full text of Moran’s press release is after the jump. (more…)
The Board approved the motion on a 2-1 vote, with Board Chair Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey voting to approve and Walter Tejada voting against the motion. Board Member Mary Hynes had left the meeting earlier with an illness.
The fee increases from $125 — where it had been raised to from $115 in 2011 — to $135, which is the state maximum. As part of the state towing law, Arlington can enact higher towing fees, based on market rates, if they conduct a thorough study, which the Board has instructed county staff to do.
The ordinance also puts in place more stringent requirements for towing companies to document the vehicle’s location, reason for removal and condition before it’s towed, including taking pictures or videos.
Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill said the fee increase was necessary because Arlington is more costly to operate in than nearby jurisdictions. Advanced Towing is one of three towing companies with storage facilities in Arlington, according to Brian Stout, the county’s liaison to the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.
“It is more expensive to operate our business in Arlington than any other location in Virginia,” O’Neill told the Board. “We are close to the point of no return with regards to sustaining an Arlington-based towing firm.”
Tejada asked Stout if companies were required to give car owners information about filing a complaint and their right to inspect their vehicle before paying to get it out of the lot. The ordinance requires the towing company to post signs telling owners their rights, but does not require giving owners a pamphlet or some sort, Stout said. O’Neill said the sign is “the first thing you see” in his lot at 4000 5th Road N. in Ballston.
“I have information that’s not what the case is from residents who have complained to me about having been towed,” Tejada told O’Neill. “There is some predatory towing that’s still happening. I cannot support the motion because there are people who are still being victims of predatory towing, some of whom are low income who don’t even know they have a right to complain. I will cast a vote of ‘no’ on their behalf.”
A majority of the surrounding jurisdictions already have towing fees comparable to Arlington’s new structure, and some have additional penalties up to $50 for nights, weekends and holidays.
The county enacted its towing ordinance years ago after a long history of predatory towing. Fisette, the longest-tenured current Board member, was a part of drafting the original ordinance.
“When I joined the Board, we had tons and tons of complaints about the tow industry, and we had no regulatory authority,” he said. “Having gotten involved, I’ve always recognized that the industry is a need. We’re a compact, busy place with parking issues… The recommendation strengthen the requirements on the towing company. This isn’t only about raising the base fee, it’s balancing it out with becoming more clear on some of the rights of those who own the vehicles.”
Tomorrow, the Arlington County Board is expected to authorize a public hearing on a proposal to raise the trespass towing fee from $125 to $135, which is the maximum allowed under state law after the General Assembly raised the limit last year. The fee is charged by local towing companies that are contracted to tow vehicles from private parking lots.
The county raised the towing fee from $115 to $125 in 2011 by a 3-2 vote, with Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman — who will be voting tomorrow in his final meeting as a Board member — opposing the increase. Tejada said at the time the increase was “a very significant hit” for those on fixed incomes. Current Board Chair and Vice Chair Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes voted in favor of the increase along with now-state Sen. Barbara Favola.
The Trespass Towing Advisory Board made the recommendation at its December meeting, along with recommendations that towing services add a $25 surcharge for towing on weekends, holidays and between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. on weekdays. However, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommends against allowing the fee.
Among the other proposed changes to the towing ordinance would be more stringent requirements for towing companies to document the vehicle’s location, reason for removal and condition before it’s towed, including taking pictures or videos. The TTAB recommended against requiring tow truck drivers to document the vehicle’s condition before its towed, since damage from towing is “a civil matter and is not adjudicated under the towing ordinance,” according to the staff report. County staff feels that it’s “important to underscore that the towing and recovery operator is responsible for documenting the condition of the vehicle.”
If approved, the ordinance would exempt vehicle owners from the towing fee if the towing service doesn’t adhere to the regulations.
The public hearing is expected to be scheduled for Feb. 22. The County Board would still need to vote on the ordinance amendment itself at a subsequent meeting in order for it to go into effect.
The incident happened around 10:45 this past Friday night. According to police, the tow truck driver — who was working for a private company, not Arlington County — was in the process of towing a vehicle from the 2900 block of S. Glebe Road for a parking permit violation when the vehicle’s owner approached him.
“The subject pulled a pistol on him forcing the victim to release the car,” according to the police report. “The subject fled the scene and was located a short time later by police.”
Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said Woodbridge resident William Eugene Jones Jr., 36, was spotted by officers close to the original crime scene after a lookout was broadcast.
Jones Jr. was arrested and charged with robbery, use of a firearm in committing a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, brandishing and possession of a concealed weapon. He was held without bond.
Rosslyn Holiday Market Open Today — The Rosslyn Business Improvement District will be hosting a “pop-up” holiday market today from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. at 1500 Wilson Blvd. The market will feature boutique shopping, gift wrapping as well as snacks, sweets, cigar and spirits tasting and massages. Disclosure: As you can tell by the temporary site background, this event is being advertised on ARLnow.com.
New ‘Aerial Yoga’ Studio Opens — Spark Yoga, an “aerial yoga” studio, has opened at 2201 N. Pershing Drive in Lyon Park. [Washingtonian]
Woman, Friends Arrested in Towing Dispute — Updated at 9:20 a.m. — A woman and her two friends were arrested Tuesday night after a dispute over towing. The woman tried to block her car from being towed from a parking lot and called police. When police arrived, the officer tried to remove her from her vehicle, and she allegedly fought back. Police say her friends also physically confronted the officer. The woman and one friend were charged with obstruction of justice and the the other friend was charged with assault and battery of a policy officer. [Patch]
Flickr pool photo by Christaki
Two passengers of a Red Top taxi cab were injured in a three-vehicle collision today.
The crash happened around noon in the southbound lanes of George Mason Drive, in front of the Army National Guard Readiness Center. Initial reports suggest an Arlington County work truck and the Red Top Cab sedan were stopped in the right-hand lane when the cab was rear-ended by an Advanced Towing truck. The cab was sandwiched between the other two vehicles, causing front- and rear-end damage.
An Arlington couple in their 60s were in the backseat of the cab at the time of the crash, according to Tanvir Ahmed, their son. Ahmed said his mother, who was returning home from cancer treatment at Virginia Hospital Center, suffered a head injury and was bleeding when she was taken via ambulance back to the hospital. His father suffered minor injuries, he said.
All three drivers remained on scene following the wreck. Only minor damage was visible on the rear bumper of the county truck. The tow truck had moderate front-end damage.
So far, there’s no official word from police regarding the cause of the crash. No other injuries were reported.
A car flipped on its side on a residential street near Washington-Lee High School this morning.
A Honda sedan was traveling eastbound on 15th Street N., near N. Vermont Street, when the driver hit the curb and part of a tree, causing the car to flip on its side. Airbags were deployed. The driver made it out of the car safely and was not reported to be injured.
The accident drew a small crowd of neighbors. As they looked on, a tow truck managed to use its wheel lift to push the Honda and flip it back on its wheels.
More photos, after the jump.
Election Day in Virginia — Voters are going to the polls in Virginia today to vote in a rare mid-August primary. In addition to the date, which was pushed back thanks to this year’s redistricting process, this year’s election is unique because it features “more Latino candidates on the ballot than ever before in General Assembly races… running for both Democratic and Republican nominations.” Arlington’s 51 polling places will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. today. [NBC Washington, Arlington County]
O’Leary Predicts High Turnout — Arlington County Treasurer and amateur election prognosticator Frank O’Leary believes that about 11,850 votes will be cast today, seven times the turnout of the 2007 primary. O’Leary based his projection on the number of absentee votes cast this year, which is higher than usual. [Sun Gazette]
Wedding Interrupted by Tow Truck — An Indian wedding procession in Ballston was interrupted over the weekend when the truck and trailer that transported the groom’s white horse to the area was towed from a parking lot. According to a witness, wedding organizers eventually talked the tow truck driver into dropping the truck. [ARLnow Forums]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99
The political blog Blue Virginia points out that a $2,500 donation to County Board member Barbara Favola’s state Senate campaign from Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill, reported here last week, came just five days before a Board vote on increasing the county’s towing fee.
On April 26, the Board voted 3-2 to increase the trespass towing fee — collected by companies like Advanced Towing — from $115 to $125. Favola was one of the three to vote in favor of the fee increase.
“I do believe towing services are a necessary part of urban living,” she said at the time. “I feel that I also have to be fair to the towing operators.”
While the vote’s timing raises questions, it is consistent with the last vote Favola cast on towing. On May 16, 2009, she voted to increase the towing fee by $15.
Update at 1:10 p.m. — Favola’s Democratic primary opponent, Jaime Areizaga-Soto, has released a statement that renews his call for Favola to resign from the Board.
Barbara Favola has violated the Arlington County Code of Ethics. It is time for Barbara Favola to resign from the County Board and quit using her public position for political gain, this is the worst of politics and shows disrespect for the values that Democrats believe in and fight for.
Sun Gazette Editor Scott McCaffrey wrote on his blog today that he recently witnessed cars being towed and license plates recorded in the Campbell parking garage in Shirlington.
That would be a departure from the lax enforcement system that has been in place for a while. In January we reported that the Harris Teeter — which had just installed parking meters for its reserved spaces in the garage — was not planning on “actively” enforcing its parking rules at the time.
McCaffrey writes that he witnessed parking enforcement monitoring the one-hour-only, non-reserved spaces on the second level of the garage.
(Updated at 6:00 p.m.) A reader sent us these photos, taken today at the intersection of N. Edgewood Street and Wilson Boulevard.
The tipster said he spotted an Advanced tow truck idling in a no parking zone close to the intersection, in front of the Clarendon Whole Foods. Upon closer inspection, he says he noticed that the driver was asleep and the engine was running. The truck sat there “for at least 45 minutes,” hindering the ability of Edgewood Street drivers to see cars and pedestrians coming up Wilson Boulevard, according to the tipster.
“If I did this I’d be towed,” he declared.
Board Approves Higher Towing Fees — It’s going to cost you an additional $10 if your car gets towed in Arlington. The County Board last night voted 3-2 to increase the maximum towing fee from $115 to $125, five dollars higher than the maximum rate in the District. The board rejected a recommendation that would have added $25 to tows performed on nights, weekends and holidays. [Sun Gazette]
‘British Goodies’ For Royal Wedding — Want to go all-out for the royal wedding Friday morning? Pick up some Yorkshire Gold tea and some Branston Pickle from the Classic Cigars & British Goodies store (2907 Wilson Blvd) in Arlington. [Patch]
Fairfax Won’t Sue Over BRAC Plan — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is critical of the decision to relocate thousands of Defense Department workers to the Mark Center in Alexandria, but it will not be filing a federal lawsuit in the wake of a damning report from the DoD’s inspector general. Rep. Jim Moran is urging localities to seek an injunction against the moves, scheduled for later this year. [Washington Post]
The proposed changes would increase the amount towing companies can charge and would require more detailed signs at businesses where towing is enforced.
County staffers are recommending the board increase the base towing fee from $115 to $125, the maximum rate allowed by Virginia law. The rate would apply to vehicles under 7,500 lbs., according to Brian Stout, who handles towing issues for the county. Stout says the increase is consistent with the rates charged by neighboring communities.
Another proposed change would apply to large trucks over 10,000 lbs. The fee for those vehicles would be raised from $250 to $500. The rate for vehicles between 7,500 and 10,000 lbs. would hold steady at $250.
Local towing companies have been lobbying for fee increases for months.
Lastly, the proposed ordinance change would require towing companies to mark towing advisory signs at businesses with the name and address of the business. The change is designed to make it easier for drivers to know where not to park in lots that serve more than one businesses.
If the board advertises the hearing this weekend, Stout said the changes would likely be considered for final approval at the April 16 board meeting.
A large apartment complex on the eastern end of Columbia Pike sent the following email to residents yesterday, in response to complaints from the county.
One building in the complex is prone to false fire alarms, particularly when the power goes out.
Recently we have received numerous complaints from Arlington County regarding our residents consistently parking in fire lanes throughout the community. Per your lease agreement parking is not permitted in the fire lanes at the community at any time, for any reason. Any car parked in a fire lane at the community will be towed immediately without any additional warning; this will be considered your only warning.
Loading and unloading can be completed in the loading dock entrance of your building. Any car parked unattended in the circular drive will be removed immediately by A1 towing at your sole risk and expense.
Please feel free to contact the Management Office at [REDACTED] with any questions you may have.
We’re sure they’re not alone in this policy. Just something to think about next time you park next to a yellow curb in Arlington.
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy” — On Dec. 7, 1941, the American naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked suddenly and without warning, costing 2,402 lives and leading to the United States’ entry in World War II. More from Wikipedia.
Towing Fines Aren’t Enforced — Towing companies have been found to have violated Arlington’s towing laws more than a dozen times in the past two years. But so far, none have ever been fined. That’s despite the fact that the county’s towing ordinance allows fines of up to $1,000. More from TBD.
VDOT Aims for More Conscientious Plowing — After a blizzard of complaints last winter about snow piles on sidewalks and in bus shelters, VDOT is trying to clean up its act. The agency is asking its contractors to be more careful when plowing roads in the county. VDOT is responsible for plowing state-owned roads in Arlington, including Glebe Road and Washington Boulevard. More from the Sun Gazette.