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July 14th, 2008
Tow truck prices, practices get council look

Managing Editor

Pointing out that San Marcos’ rates are considerably lower than surrounding communities, tow truck operators want an increase in the cap on fees they charge for impounding illegally parked vehicles.

But the effort is being caught up in complaints over what critics call overly aggressive towing practices, especially downtown where a single shopping center accounted for nearly a tenth of all nonconsent tows in the city limits during the last 12 months.

Between July 1, 2007 and June 30 of this year, the police department recorded 3,368 non-consent tows — comprised of parking violations and repossessions — of which 327 came from the Nelson Center, a retail strip mall at University Drive and North Edward Gary Street.

A well-connected out-of-town visitor who was towed from in front of Sundance Records several weeks ago resulted in a farcical confrontation between a Saucedo’s tow truck driver, police officers and a San Marcos Chamber of Commerce employee — an encounter that made the local paper two days before a previously scheduled city council workshop on towing company prices and practices. One police department commander told the newspaper that he’d been hearing complaints for 25 years from people who make the mistake of stepping around the corner to other downtown businesses while parked at the Nelson Center.

Calling the policy “draconian,” city council member John Thomaides said, “It is detrimental to our downtown business climate. I certainly don’t want to say to them or any other lot owner that they don’t have the right to tow but there has to be a way to be more reasonable with how we do tows downtown.”

Nelson Center general manager Charles Meeks was unapologetic, telling council members, “The predatory towing you’re talking about isn’t predatory at all. I contract with [a tow truck company] simply so my merchants can stay in business.”

The workshop did not yield any action except to instruct Police Chief Howard E. Williams to meet with tow truck operators as a preliminary step toward recommending fee increases, which would be the first since 2002.

The maximum charge for a basic tow allowed under a San Marcos city ordinance is $60, the lowest of area cities, according to a memo from Williams to the city council. The next lowest is San Antonio at $80 followed by Lockhart at $100 and Austin at $150. New Braunfels, Luling, Seguin and Caldwell County do not regulate the cost of non-consent tows but companies in those markets charge $125 to $145, according to Williams’ research.

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10 thoughts on “Tow truck prices, practices get council look

  1. The City has a consistent problem with parking… the downtown sector is a good example, especially when TxState is in session, but let’s also take a look at the Little League ballfields and Rio Vista Falls areas. Both areas create significant parking problems for the area neighborhoods – impeding traffic flow, with pedestrians darting out into the streets without bothering to look whether traffic is coming or not. And if they can’t find an actual parking spot, well, they just make one wherever they can (just look at the intersection of Cheatham and Riverside on a Saturday afternoon). The city is so proud of what they’ve done with Rio Vista, and should be – but parking was obviously left out of the planning.

    I would suggest Mr. Thomaides stop trying to tell business owners how to protect their customers’ parking spots and start trying to find some money to build additional lots or a parking garage downtown. Oh… right… that probably won’t get him a soundbite.

  2. Well if Charles Meeks and other property owners want to continue to allow tow companies to run amuck we should boycott the businesses in their shopping centers. Predatory towing is a plague. I do not care about the owner’s property rights, it’s anyone’s right to park there. THEY ARE MAKING MONEY FROM THE PUBLIC AND TOURISTS so in my mind, their property isn’t private!

  3. I once cautioned two college kids I witnessed parking at Nelson and dashing across to campus. I advised that Nelson towed agressively and they laughed at this quaint old man and gloated that they park there all the time. Sometimes I want to grab a quick Subway sandwich but get frustrated that the lot is full. I have no sympathy for the violators. I see the same problem at the center across from the post office. Nelson has plenty of signs advising of towing policies. It’s not Nelson’s responsibility to pick up the slack for a town that refuses to either add more spaces or meter the existing spaces. The University is another major contributor since they too refuse to provide adequate parking for the students. The comments of “freehenry” are so inane as to not deserve a response.

  4. I have been a frequent visitor to the businesses at the Nelson Center for the past few months (most often Subway and Alvin Ord’s). Today I stepped around the corner by Subway for no more than 5 minutes while talking on the phone, and when I returned to enter Subway I saw my car being towed. I spoke with the guy towing my car and he said I could pay him $50 on the spot to not have it towed. I agreed and walked to the Wells Fargo ATM 100 feet away. Upon my return I see the tow truck driving off with my car! After a mile walk and $120 fee, I can guarantee I will no longer return to the Nelson Center… it is simply too risky with those vultures picking off cars left and right.

  5. Yes. The towing companies also seem to be able to make up rules as they go along. Out of town friend had her car towed out of a lot..went to get it out of pen off 1-35 and 123 I believe, and she was charged an additional $35 or $50 for an employee to come to the pen and release the car. WTheck is that about?

  6. knights of columbus and Morris,

    I’ve heard that you can complain to the police dept if you think you shouldn’t have been towed or were overcharged. a friend of mine said that they are pretty aggressive about going after tow companies when they screw up. you should give them a call. i got towed and screwed and complained to them and got some money back that i was overcharged.

  7. I don’t think anyone will argue against the property rights of the area businesses. Parking downtown is limited and the businesses within a certain shopping center need space for their patrons as well. None of the downtown businesses should have to put up with students parking in their lots and walking to class while their car sits all day.

    However, when it gets to the point where you can’t eat at Subway then walk around the corner to pick up a smoothie for dessert without being towed, then there is a problem.

    The tow truck sits in the Jack in the Box parking lot and watches like a hawk for the *second* someone steps out of that lot at the Nelson center. Then he jumps on it like white on rice. That’s an absurd way to deal with the problem.

    Meeks is unapologetic about the tactics used by the company he contracts with for towing. But that center has a bad rap around town, and there are people (as evidenced here) who refuse to patronize any of those businesses any longer because of their practices. Doesn’t that concern him in the slightest? I don’t think the businesses in his center would not be able to “stay in business” by allowing people to branch out a little….it’s a weak excuse for a poor policy.

    The answer would be to apply a little common sense to the problem. Leave for a minute, you’re OK. Leave for a while and you’re toast.

    Too bad common sense appears to be totally lacking in this world anymore…..

  8. Saucedo’s Wrecker Service tows vehicles illegally. I walked around the corner to pick up a smoothie after with withdrawing money from the ATM machine at Nelson Center… my car was on the tow truck in less than 1 min 30 seconds. I talked to every local business owner in Nelson Center and none of them call ed to have my car towed. Saucedo’s Wrecker Service tows vehicles illegally. Saucedo’s Wrecker Service tows vehicles illegally. Saucedo’s Wrecker Service tows vehicles illegally.

  9. I wish I would have known about this corrupt towing co. before today! Today I was towed in less than 15 min. The plan was to get a smoothie, then a subway sandwich & then pick up a pair of sunglasses at Sundance! My mistake was probably going to the smoothie place 1st because when I came out I literally thought my car was stolen! How can it be towed that quickly right?! I thought no way, my car was towed, I did nothing wrong! Oops I guess I did…I had no idea you cant walk around the corner there to get a smoothie if your parked in this lot. I really think people should fight against this by NOT parking in this lot anymore…keep the lot empty! I refuse to use their parking lot ever again! Expensive smoothie today =(

  10. Your mistake was parking there at all. Even if you had gone to Subway first, you would have been towed as soon as you set foot on the sidewalk outside of that center.

    I have to wonder how much that towing policy contributed to the downfall of Sundance. I know I wouldn’t park there, even to go to one of those shops, unless I was feeling really daring.

    The whole downtown parking situation is a CF. I went to Gruene the other day, and much like many nice, walkable, cities/towns, I had no concerns about being towed or ticketed, regardless of how long I spent there, or where I walked to.

    Nelson Center is by far the worst, though. I avoid the whole place like the plague. I doubt I am the only one.

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