Civil Rights Groups File Holiday Season Challenge to Unconstitutional Towing Practices

For Immediate Release

News from LCCR – SF Bay Area and Bay Area Legal Aid

December 19, 2018

Contact: Taylor Brady, TBrady@baylegal.org, (510) 250-5234; Matt Kovac, mkovac@lccr.com, (415) 510-9601

Civil Rights Groups File Holiday Season Challenge to SF Unconstitutional Towing Practices

City continues towing low-income people’s cars over parking tickets they can’t afford to pay

SAN FRANCISCO – Two months after calling on the City to end its practice of towing vehicles for having five unpaid parking tickets, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness filed a new challenge to the City’s policy in state court this morning to keep the city from seizing unhoused and low-income people’s cars over the holidays. Most of these cars are later sold at auction.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and Bay Area Legal Aid, which represent the Coalition, sent a letter to City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera in October demanding an end to the towing policy. The letter cited a federal court ruling ordering the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to return a homeless man’s car due to concerns about the constitutionality of the practice of towing vehicles in order to collect parking fines.

Officials refused to even discuss policy changes, prompting a renewed legal challenge in state court to provide relief to low-income San Franciscans who rely on their vehicles, particularly the 1,000 people now living in their cars in San Francisco.

“In the midst of a housing crisis, living in vehicles has become a necessity, and towing those vehicles becomes a tragedy,” said Kelley Cutler, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness.

The City tows over 4,000 cars a year solely for unpaid tickets. With 78 percent of Californians driving to work, and many low-wage jobs requiring a car, the current policy has the practical effect of forcing people out of work and onto the streets. This costs the city money through increased spending on benefits, homeless shelters, and emergency services.

“With few exceptions, the Fourth Amendment protects us all from the government taking and selling our belongings for its own profit.” said Elisa Della-Piana, LCCR Legal Director. “We’re calling on the City to follow the law and demonstrate holiday cheer by ending this harm to families already struggling to make ends meet.”

“We regret that City officials have declined to work with us to implement a constitutional, common-sense solution that does not punish low-income people,” said Rebekah Evenson, Director of Litigation at Bay Area Legal Aid. “As temperatures drop, unhoused people cannot afford to wait any longer to secure their constitutional rights.”

###