$1 fee finally may go to county vehicle abatements
The board voted 4-1 last week to introduce the ordinance. District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman cast the lone no vote, saying, “As far as I’m concerned, this is the biggest joke I’ve seen in the years I’ve sat here.”
He said the fee is still not in place even though the county has been working for seven years to get the money to remove abandoned vehicles.
The county has been working to set up the Lassen County Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Service Authority. The authority may use the $1 fee added to vehicle registrations to pay for towing away junk cars and trucks.
California Vehicle Code sections 9250.7 and 22710 give counties the authority to establish a $1 fee on vehicles registered in the county through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The estimated $30,000 collected through the fee will reimburse the county and the city of Susanville for towing costs.
On June 4, 2003, the city council passed a motion to support creation of the abandoned vehicle authority to enable the city and county to receive fees.
The county eventually approved an ordinance making the sheriff’s department responsible for removing the junk cars. Sheriff Steve Warren told the board he has no authority under state law to remove abandoned vehicles from private property.
The board agreed to revise the ordinance making the community development department responsible for identifying which abandoned cars and trucks need to be removed. Sheriff’s department officers may be called on to assist in removing the junk cars if the owner resists their removal.
The board put the sheriff in charge of the program, Chapman said, because the community development department wasn’t getting abandoned vehicles off the street.
“The gangs that can’t shoot straight prevailed once again,” Chapman said, later adding, “We’re going to take the sheriff out of the picture and put community development back in the driver’s seat after they’ve already demonstrated once before their inability to get the job done.”
Admitting all the board members were frustrated by the process, District 3 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer said, “We thought two years ago we were doing the right thing by giving it to the sheriff. The sheriff wasn’t actually part of the discussion that we had. He wasn’t in the room when we made that decision.
“Now we’re trying to bring it back to a process where we think we’re going to have some success. Basically we’ve had some stops and goes along the way, but I don’t think we have any other alternative at this point but to approve this.”
District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle said abandoned vehicles are a huge issue and he hears about them from constituents all the time.
Chapman then told the board about a Susanville resident who complained about an abandoned station wagon parked facing the wrong direction blocking his access to the back of his property.
During recent snows, the resident had to park in the front of his house and a city police officer ticketed him for parking too far from the curb. Chapman complained to the City Council and the car was removed by 10:30 the next morning.
When abandoned cars are in the way of snowplows, Chapman said it’s a good opportunity to haul them away.
“But do you think our staff people can figure that out … city staff can figure that out?” he asked. “And we’re paying them a lot of money to figure that out. But, oh no, you can get a ticket, you can be inconvenienced, you can have what happens… .”
“O.K.,” Keefer said. “This is our salvation.”
“I don’t believe they’ve got the capacity, if it is our salvation, to make it happen,” Chapman said. “And that’s the reason why I have the attitude I have.”
The city and the county agreed to an abatement plan detailing how abandoned vehicles will be collected. Fifty percent of the fee will be distributed based on city and county population and geography. The other 50 percent will be divided based on the percent of vehicles towed.
Late last year, Transportation Planner Dan Douglas said because the county takes up 4,557 square miles of territory, removal of one or two junk cars or trucks may use up the county’s entire allocation from DMV registrations. He said a tow company’s mileage charges may be very high depending on where the vehicle is located.
The abandoned vehicle authority already has a contract with Susanville Towing, Douglas said, and is ready to start the program once the board amends the ordinance and the controller begins collecting the fee.
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