The following is a nearly verbatim description of a presentation I gave to the Placerville City Council back in late October — a week or so before the Placerville Farmers Market shut down for the season.
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“Honorable Council Members,” I began as befitted the solemn occasion. “Do you know how much it costs to liberate a car that has been towed away from the Ivy House parking lot?” I continued.
No one responded affirmatively, and no one offered a guess.
“$570,” I declared rather dramatically, I thought. “That’s $150 to the Placerville Police Department,” I glanced at Chief George Nielsen who sat just to my right in front of the public podium. “And $420 to G&O Towing on Mother Lode Drive near the El Dorado Y.”
Several audience members gasped audibly, as I had imagined they might. A couple of council members looked somewhat taken aback but offered no solace nor any explanation nor apology nor promises to look into the matter.
“Just be glad it wasn’t San Francisco,” was the general recommendation.
“My wife’s car was towed at about 6:30 Saturday morning to make way for the farmers market,” I continued, providing the necessary context to the story. “She had left it there the previous Friday night and ridden with friends from out of town to do some wine tasting in Camino. She opted to be dropped off at home rather than risk driving the two minutes to the house after a couple of glasses of wine. Neither she nor her friends noticed or paid attention to the signs warning people not to park there overnight on Fridays.”
I had been on the back porch when she arrived home and it did not occur to me to ask if she’d come in her own car or not. I assumed she had. We got involved discussing Thanksgiving plans, and I never gave it another thought, until I got up to go to the market Saturday morning and noticed her car was not in the driveway.
“Had I known, I would have gone down and picked up the car that night,” I explained to the council. “I go to the market every week, and I would have known that we couldn’t leave the car there overnight. She doesn’t and didn’t.”
“This really is an outrageously excessive punishment,” I fumed, more to myself while keeping my emotions in check. “Imagine visitors to our town making the same mistake. They would never come back and would warn all their friends and relatives that Old Hangtown is alive and living up to its reputation,” I noted with what I hoped was just the right ironic flourish.
“$570. It’s unconscionable,” I proclaimed balancing a measure of anger and a touch of sadness. “And it certainly is way overkill for the crime committed,” I urged.
A poster in the lobby of the police station states that the “towing and storage of your vehicle for a first-time DUI is $187.”
“I wish we had gotten the first-time DUI rate,” I said cleverly (I believed) and pointedly as I glanced at Chief Nielsen. He didn’t seem amused.
“It was our error,” I admitted. “There’s no excuse or justification. Just not paying attention. But can you please seriously consider taking another look at the contracts with the towing companies to bring this down to a more reasonable amount — even a couple of hundred would be high but a lot more palatable than $420 for keeping the car there from 6:30 a.m. until about 2:00 in the afternoon,” I asked respectfully.
“$150 seems pretty high for the police fee too, but I won’t argue that,” I said in the direction of the chief, clearly making a concession to law and order.
I assign no blame except to ourselves. The signage warning against parking overnight on Fridays is small but adequate — taped to multiple poles and upright things around the parking lot. They don’t grab you and shake you and ask, “Do you get this, sucker?” which would certainly have gotten a second glance from my wife and her friends before they pulled out of the lot.
“Posting traffic cones or something bigger and brighter near the entrance to the lot would be easy and would get a motorist’s attention much better than the little paper notices stuck to the poles in the lot,” I concluded, figuring I’d made my point succinctly, with a small dose of humor and a touch of disappointment that seemed appropriate from a 40-year resident. It may have appeared a tad smug and a tadlet sarcastic, and that’s OK. I meant it that way too.
But here’s the thing. Devise any of a dozen scenarios. A poor person passing through town does the unthinkable and parks in a “no-zone.” Maybe the car had a malfunction. A few hours later that person is confronted with no car, no information about where the car has gone, no familiarity with where the towing yards are, no way to get from downtown to the El Dorado Y and is $538 shy of the $570 needed to re-acquire his/her vehicle.
Or, a big movie producer inadvertently leaves his DeLorean at the Ivy House lot on a Friday night and rides with our local film commission people to check out a venue for a big, blockbuster movie. Think millions of dollars and jobs for the local economy. Movie producer returns the next morning. DeLorean’s gone. Big producer is apoplectic, decides to film the movie in Amador County instead of El Dorado.
I called a council member about other business some weeks after this event. After the business part of the conversation, I asked, “Hey, did anyone at the city ever look into this Ivy House tow-away boondoggle I spoke about at the council meeting?”
“Not that I know of,” was the answer. “But, be glad this isn’t San Francisco.”
Well, I am glad this isn’t San Francisco, but that’s about $538 shy of comforting.