Vehicle impound problem: Menlo Park city manager reviewing issue


Legislation is in the works in Sacramento that could ease the pain of impoverished drivers who see their vehicles impounded because they're driving with a suspended license.

The issue has resonance in Menlo Park. The police department came under particular scrutiny in a June 17 story, "Driving with suspended license top crime in Menlo Park, many lose cars," by the Peninsula Press, a project of the Stanford Journalism Program. The story received more attention Aug. 5 when KQED broadcast a news segment on it.

In the story, reporter Farida Jhabvala Romero described the plight of drivers from the Belle Haven neighborhood, mostly Latino and African American, who struggle to maintain their livelihoods after being cited and having their vehicles impounded and towed away.

A change in city policy is not out of the question, City Manager Alex McIntyre said, depending on what his research turns up.

In the story, Menlo Park Police Cmdr. Dave Bertini says that his department concentrated traffic enforcement patrols in Belle Haven in response to residents' complaints in 2013 about bad drivers. As a result, most of Menlo Park's citations for suspended licenses in recent years have occurred in Belle Haven.

Suspended licenses are often a consequence of not having the money to pay a traffic ticket and the late fees that accompany not paying it. A state law enacted in 1995 gave police officers the authority to impound the vehicles of people driving with suspended licenses, Cmdr. Bertini said, and when the vehicle is impounded, it sits in storage at a cost of $60 to $80 a day, adding to the driver's woes.

A judge might help people in these circumstances, but an appearance in court often requires that fines and fees be paid first, the story says.

"To me," state Sen. Jerry Hill told the Almanac, "the issue is making sure that policies do not criminalize poverty." Senate Bill 405, by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Sherman Oaks, is moving through the Legislature. SB 405 would eliminate the requirement that fines be paid before seeing a judge, and would allow certain types of suspensions to be lifted if the person has established a payment plan.

This is the 10th bill on impounded-vehicle law since 2000, and most have died in committee, according to information provided by Sen. Hill's office.

Safety on the road is the issue, Sen. Hill said. An analysis of Assembly Bill 335, which died in 2014, acknowledges the pain to low-income families of having a vehicle impounded, but adds that drivers with suspended licenses "pose an elevated risk to all other road users" and that "impoundments are an effective public safety tool."

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the DMV concludes that drivers with suspended licenses are at least three times more likely to cause a fatal accident than the average licensed driver, and that impounding their vehicles results in substantial reductions in traffic violations and crashes, the analysis says.

In an analysis of SB 405, Sen. Hertzberg says that "a staggering number of Californians" have no access to courts after a traffic citation. "As a result of unclear policy and high fees, drivers do not have the opportunity to see a judge and essentially lose their right to due process," he says, adding that his bill would allow 4.2 million Californians to have their licenses reinstated.

City Manager McIntyre said he was going to look into Menlo Park's $300 vehicle-release fee to determine whether it was "out of whack" and whether or not that fee was contributing to the problem. According to the Peninsula Press story, San Diego's fee is $54 and Sacramento's is $180.

Cmdr. Bertini reiterated what he said in the Peninsula Press story: that when he was patrolling the streets of Pacifica, he would try to get drivers to take the ticketing process seriously. But, he added, people run afoul of the process for all sorts of reasons.

"If people think it's unfair, then they need to talk with their legislators," he said. "We don't make the laws, we enforce them. They know they are rolling the dice every time they drive."

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2 people like this
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Does this mean that people aren't complaining about the bad driving in other parts of Menlo? I guess I need to make some phone calls.

4 people like this
Posted by johngslater
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2015 at 1:28 pm

People who don't pay fines should have there licenses suspended. People who continue to drive, even though they have a suspended license, need to have their cars taken away. If we don't do this, then suspending a license becomes meaningless.

If poverty is an issue, we should put together appropriate payment systems so there is no excuse in not paying fines.

23 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2015 at 1:50 pm

really? is a registered user.

The bigger question you both raise is whether precisely obeying driving rules(and parking for that matter)is engendered by self-preservation instincts and altruism, or fear of punitive penalties. The penalties argument only works up to a point- whether the red-light ticket is $100 or $500 (which it is now) I'll bet makes no statistical difference in how many people go late through a red light. So the extra cash only serves interests of profit or a mis-directed punitive urge of the powers that be.

Thankfully Sacramento is looking at this problem of over-punishment, and shame on those who wag their disapproving finger at the single-mom house cleaner in Redwood City who's 1985 Toyota is impounded because of a few $3000 (adjusted for income disparity) parking tickets.

10 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Aug 11, 2015 at 6:38 pm

What this really points to for me is the ridiculously high fees and impound costs that are piled onto these situations. It's clearly a matter of greedy local governments (fees added to citations that bear virtually no relevance to costs which "FEES" charged by government are supposed to.

The second even more ridiculous part are the impound fees. This are clearly out of control and should be closely regulated by a responsible authority (that probably excludes most government entities)Seriously - what does it cost to have an impound area? Space for 10 vehicles at 60 dollars a day could yield a gross income of $18,000. What type of zoning is needed? I think I'll go into the business - maybe charge just $30 per day with a $10 adder for indoor storage.

Really - any costs that exceed the cost of local parking lots are just gouging - that is supported by the local authority - perhaps for a piece of the action?

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


you're forgetting you have to own tow trucks, pay city/county fees and insurance and who knows what other municipal fees. Not so cheap. If it was such a slam dunk lots of people would be doing it. They aren't are they?

5 people like this
Posted by Mathew
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 9:35 am

No one blinks when politicians fund their pet projects with fees.

Until they get a 'failure to completely stop on a red for a right hand turn' (which you ALL do eventually...)

And find out his pet project is funded by a $500 "fee". And if you are poor, or screw up the reply date, you are hosed - add another $500.

CHANGE IT. Quit funding programs from "fees" and penalties. The conflict of interest is too great.

Too regressive.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 10:29 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


regressive, yes. Local politicians aren't funding things off red light cameras, the state is. About 90% of fees from traffic tickets go to the state, not local jurisdictions. Red light cameras are unconstitutional and if you get a red light camera ticket there are a variety of ways in which you can get it dismissed.

2 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

"People who don't pay fines should have there licenses suspended. People who continue to drive, even though they have a suspended license, need to have their cars taken away. If we don't do this, then suspending a license becomes meaningless."

Kind of meaningless like giving illegal immigrants drivers licenses?? Giving them a license validates their breaking the law and coming here illegally. Taking care of their children and schooling them and paying their medical costs overwhelms our schools and hospitals and only serves to encourage others to do the same. How can you balance a state budget when you can't control (or won't) undocumented illegal immigration??? It's crazy nonsense. Do you run your household without ever considering your own checking account? Turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants working here does the same thing.

At the very least stop calling it illegal and let EVERYONE in if you won't enforce the dank laws. (Also expect our state and federal budgets to go when more to heck.)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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