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Yet Again, Council Committee Wastes Time and Gets Nowhere With Booting Ordinance

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The city council's Transportation and Environment Committee failed Monday afternoon to vote on a proposed ordinance to regulate booting vehicles in private parking lots, opting instead to hold a third meeting on the issue. After some committee members asked questions already outlined in the briefing and others sought to modify the city staff's recommendation, chair Linda Koop said there were "too many outstanding questions" and called for a second special meeting to be held before the council's July recess to get answers.

Although the Legislature on May 27 passed a state law regulating the practice, the city is pushing to get its own ordinance on the books after KTVT-Channel 11 exposed the havoc in Deep Ellum and downtown resulting from booting. The state law will take effect September 1 if Governor Rick Perry doesn't veto it, but John Brunk, assistant director of Public Works and Transportation, told us the proposed city ordinance allows the city to be more restrictive.

"Based on we've seen so far, I don't think anything we're proposing is inconsistent with the state law," he told Unfair Park.

The ordinance is similar to one passed in September 2008 in Houston, which requires parking lots to issue customers a receipt by a machine or attendant if they want to boot nonpayers. Houston Senator John Whitmire introduced SB 2153, which you can read on pages 43 through 49 of yesterday's briefing.

Brunk said the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation has the ability to add more rules as it sees fit, and the city will modify whatever ordinance is approved when the state law is finalized and enacted.

"We need to get a regulation in place that puts some controls on it, and then let those within the industry respond," he told Unfair Park. "The market will tell us if this ordinance works or not. If nobody puts a machine in and they all start towing like crazy, we're gonna know that we went the wrong way."

After an initial March 23 briefing, the committee asked city staff to bring a detailed plan back April 27, with a full council vote expected May 13. However, the second briefing wasn't scheduled until May 26, and it was postponed because the committee spent its time arguing the merits of allowing additional concessionaires at Love Field airport.

Monday's special meeting included the exact same documents provided to committee members May 26, with the exception of an update regarding the state law's approval by the Legislature. Yet some of them, most notably Carolyn Davis, clearly hadn't done their homework.

Davis, who waltzed in 15 minutes late, spoke first after Brunk briefed the committee. She directed him to page 27 of the briefing, where it reads: "Boot company would be able to collect outstanding parking fees for the operator."

"From the operator of the parking lot?" she asked.

We're guessing she misread "for" as "from," but that simply doesn't make sense. You've got various parties involved here: the customer, the parking lot owner, the parking lot operator and the booting company. Some lot owners are also operators (something we'll get into in a second), but that doesn't matter.

So let's assume a customer doesn't pay for parking on an operator's lot. A booting company comes out and boots the car. The customer calls the phone number on their windshield, and the booting company is back again, this time requiring somewhere between 50 and 100 bucks to take off the boot.

The bullet point merely explained that the booting company would also have the ability to collect the unpaid parking as well.

Pretty simple. But not for Davis. Apparently, she thought the booting company would be able to collect outstanding parking fees from the operator, which again is illogical.

"How would they do that?" she followed, after Brunk told her the parking fees would be collecting from the customer.

Gee, I dunno. Maybe open their mouth and structure a sentence something along the lines of: "On top of the $100 for the boot removal, it'll be another $5 for parking fee you neglected to pay."

"Is there a licensing fee for this?"

Brunk explained what he mentioned in the briefing: a $900 annual fee for the license and $15 annually for permits, which, had Davis been paying attention or looked at the briefing ahead of time, she could have found on pages 23 and 24 respectively.

"Why the difference?"

Again, page 23 says the $900 is for "the licensing of companies that provide vehicle booting services," and page 24 says the $15 is for "individuals who place booting devices on vehicles."

Davis wasn't the only one lost in the meeting, as Sheffie Kadane asked, "How does the boot company know to boot my car?"

After Brunk told him the booting company checks to see who have paid and then boots the offenders, Kadane said, "Who does that?"

He then asked if companies had to boot vehicles and later was completely lost and confused regarding a motion from Jerry Allen.

Allen proposed to accept the city staff's recommendation but with the addition that the booting company could continue to use video evidence as an auditing tool if a parking attendant or machine (which Brunk says cost between $3,000 and $15,000) wasn't on site to provide a receipt. Of course, Allen asked for an explanation of the video auditing method, despite (you guessed it) an outline of the procedure on page 41.

Brunk stressed that the video method had the potential to be manipulated, as the booting company could remove the cash and then videotape the empty slot, and he said discussions resulted in a need for a receipt so customers had evidence of their own.

Allen referred to customers giving their receipts to others as potential "evilness on the other side." He later revoked his motion after Koop explained that she wanted another briefing where people with a stake in this mess could have their say, although a public hearing was held April 20 with the comments from the meeting included in the briefing.

Angela Hunt introduced a motion of her own, but like Allen withdrew it when Koop made her statement. Hunt wanted to approve the staff's recommendations with direction to eliminate the discretion related to revocation of the booting license. She requested a specified number of citations spelled out in the ordinance regarding how many offenses could be racked up before the city takes action.

Hunt also said she thought the $100 maximum fee charged to customers seemed "a little high" until Brunk told her the city charges $100 to remove boots; she had "grave concerns" about Allen's motion because it allowed all of the power to be in the hands of the booting companies; and she wanted to know more about what could be done if a customer called to have their boot removed and got no response.

In addition to the aforementioned aspects of the proposed ordinance, it restricts "in-house" booting so the parking operator doesn't profit from the practice, and the booting companies must be available 24/7 and accept credit cards.

This wasn't discussed at the meeting, but perhaps another option would be to outlaw booting instead of restricting it. As Brunk told us, Platinum Parking, the largest private parking lot operator in Dallas, has had great success simply by issuing paper notices to offenders, even though there is nothing forcing the customer to pay up.

"A lot of people pay, and that's satisfactory for them," he said.

In fact, several operators do the same thing with similar results, with the notices ranging from $20 to $50, and it's only when a car has piled up a few unpaid violations before towing is used as a last resort.

Or maybe there's no good fit after all.

"You can't win for losing," Carolyn Davis said. "It's one of those situations."

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