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Friday, February 12, 2010

S.F. Man Files Suit, Alleges City Improperly Towed His Car -- And Perhaps Legions More

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Not so fast, pal...
  • Not so fast, pal...
John J. Riley could be considered a hero to the city's beleaguered parkers. He successfully petitioned the city to drop a citation he was given after his car was ticketed and towed. Now he's gunning for deity status, last month filing a class-action suit claiming the Department of Parking and Traffic improperly towed away his car based on a flawed city statute -- and may have done so for scads of other motorists. Should Riley prevail, untold numbers of San Franciscans may be due a refund.

Riley's story began in November of 2008, when he was out of the country and his car was parked on Chestnut Street between Polk and Van Ness. Riley's residential parking permit allows him to leave his car on this block -- and no posted signs denote any time limitations on how long permit holders may park. Yet while he was abroad, Department of Parking and Traffic personnel posted a notice on his car noting his vehicle had been parked for more than 72 hours and was liable to be towed. When he eventually retrieved his car from the tow lot, he was made to pay $915 in fees and an $85 parking fine.

Riley beat that $85 parking ticket by arguing that the DPT incorrectly listed the fine as only $75. Now he's set his sights higher, claiming the entire notion of the city towing lawfully parked cars after 72 hours is legally bunk.  

In letters to Riley, the city cited two justifications for towing his legally parked car after 72 hours: A city ordinance and a section of the state vehicle code allowing for a vehicle to be towed when it "is parked or left standing upon a highway for 72 or more consecutive hours in violation of a local ordinance authorizing such removal."

The crux of Riley's argument, however, is that no such ordinance exists here in San Francisco. The aforementioned section of the city's Municipal Transportation Code he claims city officials cited to him is Section 11.1 (a)(9); this section outlines the myriad justifications for removing a private citizen's car from city streets. But the very first clause begins "when any legally required signage is posted giving notice..." The suit maintains that no signage "regarding the towing of vehicles bearing residential parking permit stickers" was present on the block Riley was parked on -- and, what's more, "no such signage was posted within the city limits of San Francisco."

As the suit sums it up, "Plaintiff alleges that Defendant" -- that'd be the city -- "has a policy practice and custom of towing ... otherwise legally parked vehicles without proper notice and legal authority to do so." Riley's complaint is a class-action suit as he believes -- logically -- that he was not the only person whose car was towed due to a policy he claims is legally problematic.

Our calls to Riley's attorney, Deborah England, and the Municipal Transportation Authority have not yet been returned. SF Weekly has filed an immediate disclosure request with the MTA to determine just how many legally parked cars have been towed in this city after standing in place for 72 hours or more. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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