Auto Return’s out-of-state headquarters, in San Francisco, was among factors that spurred members of the Department of Code Enforcement’s board to delay a vote planned two weeks ago.
This afternoon, during a 90-minute meeting behind closed doors, they heard more about competing bids by three teams of local companies, none of which has been released publicly. Then they met in a public session.
Though at least two of five members said they wanted more time to consider their vote, they joined others in approving the contract 5-0. Code Enforcement Director Rick Powers chairs the board, which also has two members appointed by Mayor Greg Ballard and two appointed by the City-County Council.
The new single-manager towing setup marks a departure. It’s intended to quicken response time, using GPS tracking of trucks, and cut down on inconvenience for the public.
Owners of towed vehicles no longer will need to visit the City-County Building to pay fees before traveling to a storage lot outside Downtown. They will be able to pay online, by phone or at the lot.
Still unclear is whether customers will pay higher fees when Auto Return’s local partners tow their vehicles.
Code Enforcement will release more details, including pricing, once the contract is finalized in coming weeks, spokesman Adam Baker said. Officials have said the new contract guarantees the city at least $1.5 million a year in revenue, slightly more than it has pocketed recently.So pertinent information about the contract will not be known until weeks after the deal has been inked, leaving no opportunity for public input. One of the competing bidders tells the Star's Murray that "citizens are going to be absolutely run through the coals with prices." What little information we've been given to date only informs us that the City expects to receive about $1.5 million annually from Auto Return, slightly more than it collects annually from three local towing companies that are contracted to tow city-ordered towings. We know that any revenues derived from the contract are paid by auto owners whose cars have been ordered towed by city officials. Whether Auto Rental intends to share a greater share of its towing fees with the City or charge higher towing fees is completely unknown.