By BRAD ROLLINS
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.Email | Print