The city of Menlo Park has reduced the fee it charges to retrieve a towed vehicle from an impound lot to $125 and discontinued a $100 extra fee for those retrieving cars before the customary 30-day holding period.
Menlo Park's towed-vehicle fees were the subject of a June 2015 story by a Stanford graduate journalism student, who pointed out that city's fees were higher than in many other California cities, including Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Those fees, plus towing, storage and other costs, often rendered reclaiming the car unaffordable, Farida Jhabvala Romero wrote for Peninsula Press, a project of the Stanford graduate journalism program.
"Fewer than half of the cars impounded for 30 days are picked up by owners, according to managers at three towing companies working with Menlo Park," she reported.
After a city review and on the recommendation of the Menlo Park Police Department, the City Council agreed May 3 to reduce the fee it charges to retrieve towed vehicles from impound lots to $125 (previous fees could be as high as $300), as well as discontinue the $100 early-release fee.
Commander Dave Bertini of the Menlo Park Police Department said the early-release fee, in particular, seemed "punitive" because it created an extra cost for those who are proactive about submitting the proper paperwork and meeting the legal requirements to retrieve their cars before the end of the 30-day window.
The fee reductions are expected to cut city revenue by about $50,000 a year. "We may be, in fact, subsidizing some of this now," Cmdr. Bertini said, but added, "I think this is fair."
He said the city adopted these impound fees in 2008 after an independent consultant analyzed the full cost of the time it took to process a tow and vehicle release. Those fees were set at $200 when a car is towed for an infraction of the vehicle code, such as blocking a driveway, and $300 when the driver was involved in a misdemeanor or felony.
The new vehicle-release fee of $125, Cmdr. Bertini said, was set as the median of the fees that are charged by police agencies in San Mateo County plus Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Sunnyvale is the only other nearby police agency that has an early release fee, he said.
People will still have to pay state fees, tow costs and daily storage fees at impound lots, along with fines for the offense that got the car impounded.