By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) Opponents of a so-called junker ordinance that they rebranded the “poverty tow bill” packed the Denver City Council chambers Monday, but it didn't do much good.
The council voted to approve an ordinance that would require broken down vehicles to be moved every 24 hours or be towed and impounded. The definition of an impaired vehicle can be any automobile that appears inoperable. Only council member Candi CdeBaca voted against the bill. Council member Robin Kniech was absent.
“The proposed bill 23-0373 amends language in existing law around parking for all vehicles and specifically targets poor people’s vehicles who cannot afford to keep a perfect, pristine vehicle,” Housekeys Action Network Denver stated in a news release Monday morning. “The bill gives the city the authority to impound vehicles for things as minor as a broken windshield, a flat tire, or a missing tail light.”
Many people who own such vehicles live in them. Housekeys Action Network Denver, or HAND, advocates for people experiencing homelessness. The group has pointed out that the proposed bill criminalizes homelessness, just like the urban camping ban. Working vehicles, including recreational vehicles and trailers, would have to be moved every 72 hours under the new law.
“Under this bill, your vehicle can be impounded simply if you do not move it every 72 hours,” HAND reports in its news release. “If you are sick, in the hospital, at work, or out of town you could lose your vehicle. Do we really want to be a city that takes vehicles from people who are sick and can’t move their vehicle? From people who are at work and can’t move their vehicle? From people who are poor and trying to save money for repairs?”
Council member Paul Kashmann made an amendment to the bill that the council approved unanimously. The amendment required the city to give 48 hours of notice before a tow if it appears the vehicle has occupants living inside.
Council member Amanda Sandoval said she intends to introduce legislation that would allow fines and impound fees to be reduced or forgiven in some cases. Council member Jolon Clark also expressed an interest in such a bill.
A matter of public health
Just as it did with the camping ban, city staff is framing the need for the law in the context of public health. According to city staff, current parking time limits do not effectively manage turnover and curbside access in high demand areas. In addition to cars, the bill targets campers and RVs parked in the public right of way.
“These circumstances can create unsafe conditions for the people inside of the vehicle or residents/businesses in the area including storage of large amounts of propane, gasoline, heaters, and stoves; dangerous fires that have proved fatal; obstruction of the right of way, people (and children) living in unsafe conditions, public health issues, etc. Burned vehicles are especially difficult to remove safely and, in many of the situations described above, hazardous materials including human waste are draining into the street and washed into our inlets impacting water quality.”
Outgoing council members craft bill
Clark and Kendra Black sponsored the bill. Their terms expire soon. “This bill was thrown together and pushed through council with no community input process,” according to the HAND news release. “It was crafted by two council members on their way out of council to try and slip through a serious bill affecting all Denverites - targeted especially at poor and houseless vehicle owners. This bill should be killed.”
Last week, the council postponed the final vote on the bill. Kniech said she and other members of council have questions surrounding giving notice and outreach to vehicles that would be towed. She said they want to better understand the legal process.