A handful of Red White & Boom! attendees got an unhappy surprise following the July 4th fireworks when they discovered their vehicles had been towed during the festivities.
The city's downtown, like some other spots throughout Lee County, has garnered a reputation as a tow-away zone, a label that has Community Redevelopment Agency and city officials looking at ways to change that unfortunate distinction.
Councilmember Marty McClain has asked the city's legal department to move ahead on a municipal towing ordinance that was first put on the table a year or so ago after similar complaints following a major city event.
We understand the councilman's concerns, and have no issue with city council exploring legal options aimed at sign compliance and fee regulation, both within the city's purview.
That said, we stress, as has Councilmember McClain himself, that private property owners do have the right to regulate parking within their boundaries.
Legally, efforts to prohibit towing in certain areas or for certain events as has been suggested by some are bound to fail - as well they should.
Understand, too, that towing companies have the right - and the obligation - to fulfill contracts signed.
Efforts on education and enforcement, though, may help all of the parties involved.
We suggest a couple of things:
Both the CRA and the city did a good job at education this year. In addition to posting parking warnings on various public web and social networking sites, both issued notices published amply by local media outlets, including The Breeze.
We also point out the no parking/tow away areas are plainly marked.
Unfortunately, as we have learned, visitors to the city don't always get the message.
The city has two choices and prohibiting towing for certain occasions is not one of them.
The CRA and the city can accept that there always will be a few who will not pick up a paper and will assume the business only means don't park there while it's open - the reason most often cited by those whose vehicles were towed - and live with it. So sad, too bad.
Or one entity or the other can add signage or volunteers on festival days to wave the wayward on toward public parking.
We think the latter option has merit and suggest it be discussed before the next big event.
Regulation and enforcement
Tow away zones and the towing industry are regulated by the state with each county in Florida also required to implement companion code to include a maximum fee structure.
Florida State Statute 715.07 Towing Regulations mandates how private property owners must post their lots and how tow truck operators may go about their business of collecting improperly parked vehicles.
Signage must follow implicit rules as to the size and type of the letters and background as well as where and how the signs must be posted to be visible. The state also regulates the language.
The city, if it so chooses, can require permitting and inspection of these signs to make sure they comply with state law.
While this may not fix our special events/downtown rep conundrum, it can help make sure drivers looking for a place to park are properly informed. We would put this on the consideration list, should the city opt to add another layer of regulation to state statute and county ordinance.
Towing companies, themselves, are heavily regulated to prevent abuses.
By law they are liable for damages to vehicles towed if due care is not used in the process and maximum fees are set for them as are retrieval policies. They must notify law enforcement of all tows made, they must provide those agencies with a complete copy of their current rates and they must post those same rates at their business.
The statutes are minimum standards and do not preclude additional regulations by any municipality or county.
The city has two opportunities here.
First, officials can look at maximum rates set by the county and decide if they are appropriate for the Cape.
Second, officials can look closely at practices to make sure towing companies comply with the various regulations.
Lee County residents can take some comfort here: Local law enforcement is already proactive in this area and, in fact, has made arrests in a handful of cases where towing companies or operators have gone astray of the law.
Lastly, a word to the wise: Pay good attention to the no parking signs in the Cape. Certain areas of the city have earned their not-parking-friendly notoriety for a reason. Don't assume after hours means free parking.
In too many cases it can mean both a bill and an inconvenience.
- Breeze Newspapers