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Rolly: 'Haul' of shame? State may curb predatory towing
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo Mayor John Curtis, concerned about stories he had heard of predatory towing, recently asked on his blog for examples of unreasonable practices by tow-truck companies that he could take to the City Council.

That was on a Monday at 7 a.m. By Tuesday at 3 p.m., when the council meeting began, he had 700 nightmarish yarns about predatory tow-truck operators.

Then Curtis' sister-in-law, former state Rep. Trisha Beck, complained last week to Sandy City after a guest at a dinner party she was hosting couldn't drive up steep, snowpacked 9000 South, even with assistance from a police officer. So she left her car in a store parking lot and had her son take her to the party.

The car was towed, and she had to fork over cash to get it back, even though the no-parking signs were covered with snow and the lot was nearly empty on a Sunday night.

"We have tried to negotiate with businesses and have gotten them to post more and larger signs so people know of parking restrictions," said Sandy spokeswoman Nicole Martin. "But because [they are] private property, our hands are tied."

Curtis said the problem stems from the high fines that tow-truck companies can levy against drivers who park in no-parking areas in private lots. The state, whose laws are tilted in favor of property owners and tow-truck operators, allows a $145 charge for the tow, plus gas and other expenses.

"That usually puts it over $200," said Curtis, "when a parking ticket on a city street will cost only $15 to $20. The punishment doesn't fit the crime."

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is preparing a bill that would let cities establish the minimum tow charge instead of the state. Curtis, who is working with Stratton on the measure, says cities would be inclined to set much lower fees.

Stratton's bill also would give cities the leeway to set ordinances on the number and size of no-parking signs in parking lots, establish a car owner bill of rights, provide for alternate means of payment besides cash and spell out a minimum amount of time a car can be parked before it is towed.

Stratton said his intent is to let cities establish ordinances that best fit their area within the parameters of state law.

Curtis also would like the towing decision to come from the property owner rather than the tow company, which has a financial incentive to haul away.

"We want to make sure the property owner actually needs the car to be towed," he said.

Off with their heads • When Utah's Republican-dominated House Government Operations Committee shot down Democratic Rep. Patrice Arent's HB258, which was aimed at eliminsting the straight-party-ticket option on ballots, most foes gave reasoned explanations for their opposition, mainly that the current system works fine.

But Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, gave a more twisted argument. He voted against the bill because all those who supported it are unethical. He also spun the issue into a personal vendetta.

"I am not convinced by the supporters who supposedly had ethics behind their name and took me on on the Hatch Act," Noel said. "The people who support [the bill] are really not ethical themselves."

Groups supporting Arent's bill included Utahns for Ethical Government, the Alliance for a Better Utah, Represent Me Utah, a student-body officer from the University of Utah and a Salt Lake County elections officer.

An evil bunch if there ever was one.

Noel apparently was upset that the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah filed a complaint in 2011 alleging he violated the federal Hatch Act, which bars individuals from managing federal funds while being a candidate for a partisan political office. Noel was director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, which received $5 million in federal funds through loans and grants.

Location, location, location • A man was spotted last week standing on the Interstate 80 exit at 1300 East, a common spot for panhandlers. He was holding a cardboard sign that said: OBAMA GAVE ME THIS JOB.

He needs to better understand his audience. He was in more-liberal Sugar House, and nobody seemed interested in handing him a buck.

Now, if he had that sign in, say, Provo, or St. George, or Herriman, or Logan, he might have made a bundle.

prolly@sltrib.com

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