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F.C. City Council Votes 6-1 to Move Forward With Towing Ordinance

The Falls Church City Council voted 6-1 at Wednesday night’s meeting to move forward with a second reading of a proposed towing ordinance, which would deter predatory towing in the City of Falls Church given four amendments to the City’s standing regulation.

 

The Falls Church City Council voted 6-1 at Wednesday night’s meeting to move forward with a second reading of a proposed towing ordinance, which would deter predatory towing in the City of Falls Church given four amendments to the City’s standing regulation.

Among those implementations are a required authorization, or second signature, by a property owner to approve a tow, a photograph documenting the violation, an increase in towing violation signage around the City and a reduction in the maximum allowable tow fee from the current $100 to $50.

Councilman Daniel Sze stood alone is his vote to not go forward with a second reading, which will be held during a council meeting on Monday, Oct. 26.

“Right now, we have two ends of the spectrum claiming the other guy is the bad guy. They can’t all be bad guys. Some of them probably go to church,” said Sze, garnering a chuckle from the audience, and breaking the tension of the hot-topic debate that ran into the late evening inside City Hall.

Becky Witsman of the City’s economic development office was on hand, as well as Deputy Chief of Police Mary Gavin to explain the amendments in more detail.

Councilmember Nader Baroukh expressed concern about a second signature, to which Gavin reiterated that under new legislation, the signature “would need to be from a live body” and not an understood permission received via cell phone or by other means.

Brenda Fisher of Akin Properties, who oversees two properties in F.C., said she disagreed with a second signature.

“My businesses are small businesses. My agent would have to be woken up the middle of the night,” said Fisher, calling the proposed amendment inconvenient and going on to say that property owners “are supposed to have certain rights.”

President of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association Charles Clohan echoed Fisher’s concern saying that, in the end, the notion of a second signature notion would cost more money.

“The tenants don’t want to get in the middle of it,” said Clohan, adding that if he hired someone to oversee towing violations, he’d be forced to increase rent rates, which would deter his customers from renting.

The issue of safety also came up in regards to a second signature.

Joseph Douglas Jr. of Pete’s Towing in Falls Church said tow companies often “take the heat off the businesses” when violators come to retrieve their vehicle.

“By the time they get to us, they’ve had a chance to cool down. If businesses have to monitor the parking, it’d be easy for the person towed to see [the owner] out there signing off on it,” said Douglas. “I almost think it’s a safety issue.”

F.C. resident Patty Winters read a letter aloud to the council, which was published the News-Press’ Letters to the Editor in July, calling out Douglas’ company as “liars.” Winters was towed last Memorial Day from a parking lot she’d been parking in on the summer holiday for years without a problem when she was towed and charged $100 by Pete’s towing.

She pointed out that she was unemployed and was attending the event because it was free, calling the charge not one which was taken lightly. Winters also said she’d been given permission from the building owner prior to her parking that she was allowed to park there.

“I had a very bad experience with Pete’s Towing,” said Winters, which she said didn’t seem to care about her being towed while being unemployed. She added that when she called to speak to manager at Pete’s, she was given conflicting answers and, at one point, was told she’d already spoken with a manager.

Resident Richard Strong also took to the podium, saying that his mother-in-law was predatorily towed from a handicapped spot by Pete’s Towing after only having been parked there seven minutes. Strong said he was told by someone at Pete’s Towing they suspected Strong had intentionally made his mother-in-law park in the spot that day “to get involved with [the towing debate].”

He also said he’s aware of people moving out of the City of Falls Church because of the towing problem.

“I’m sick and tired of dealing with this garbage. The biggest problem is speedy towing and I think the second signature would bring that to light,” said Strong.

Tim Stigman of East Coast Towing in Falls Church agreed with Douglas’ point of the second signature being a safety concern for business owners.

“It’s a predicament that could get real ugly. We’d be opening up a box here that I don’t know if you all really want to open,” said Stigman, who noted that the person towed could come back and take revenge on the business owner.

“You guys need to build a parking garage,” Stigman told the council. “If the City can’t provide that, you can’t expect the businesses paying insurance to open their lots [to people parking illegally].”

Baroukh also urged the creation municipal parking, calling the proposed ordinance a “band-aid solution [he’s] not really happy about.”

“I really do see this as a private property issue. There is also a public safety aspect of this, to which I hope property owners come up with something else instead of washing their hands of this and saying ‘It’s not my problem, but it is my property,’” said Baroukh, who did vote for a second reading at the agenda’s closing, though said he expected it to be “dramatically different” from the first.

Mayor Robin Gardner called the first reading a “first step,” going onto to express her hopes that the private property owners will approach her and the City’s staff with a solution they can all agree upon.

Other council members were hesitant about legislative intervention into the issue of private property owners’ rights.

“This is something we don’t necessarily have to do ourselves. I don’t know if an ordinance is the right product, but it is a framework,” said Councilmember Lawrence Webb.

Councilmember David Snyder called the proposal as it stood “not workable,” but said he agreed with the Mayor that a conclusion needed to be reached and voted yes to a second reading.

“This is something for the property owners [to decide] and towing legislation is not the responsibility of a legislative body. I’m regarding this a place holder,” said F.C. Vice Mayor Hal Lippman.

Councilmember Daniel Maller agreed, saying “If we left to a legislative body to vote on — and maybe I’m going to lose some friends here — but what the City should do is buy up all of this property. Then we can manage it.”

Maller went on to suggest requiring a tow agent to wait ten minutes after hooking the car, giving the person nearby an option to pay $25 to have it dropped.

In her closing statement before the 6-1 vote, Gardner said, “Maybe we’ll need a re-write and have to go into yet another first reading, but we need to get the ball rolling. It’s a big issue and this is the first time there’s been this much dialogue on it.”

To read the details of last night’s proposed motion, as well as what surrounding areas charge per tow, visit here.

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