A Brooklyn Center plow cleans the roadway after a snow fall. Mayor Mike Elliott has suspended towing during three of the city’s four snow events this year. The council said it would support amending the city’s towing ordinance to suspend towing for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, if not longer.

After Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott suspended towing during snow emergencies several times this winter, the City Council said it was willing to consider either a season-long suspension of towing or a permanent end to the practice at its Feb. 8 work session.

Per the city’s snow emergency policy, which was adopted in 2018, any vehicle parked on public streets during a snow emergency before streets are plowed can be subject to ticketing and towing.

Elliott has used his power as mayor to issue proclamations suspending the city’s towing powers during three of the city’s four snow emergencies this year.

When explaining his reasoning in the proclamations, Elliott cited the negative financial impacts that impounding vehicle can have on a family, particularly at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has left many cash-strapped and out of work.

Elliott called the towing provision a “poor tax,” and said it disproportionately affects the city’s lowest-income residents. The council should consider suspending towing for the duration of the pandemic, if not an outright repeal of the towing ordinance, he said.

“I do think that it places a burden on our families,” Elliott said.

“People call and complain. But if you compare the inconvenience of coming back and plowing in a spot that had cars (that have) not been moved, to the trauma that it can cause for a family to go through losing their vehicle, potentially not getting to work, potentially losing their job if they have one during this pandemic, or not being able to get to where they need to get to, it’s not even close. I feel very strongly about this.”

The move to suspend towing by proclamation has made it difficult for city staff members to provide a consistent message to residents about parking ordinances, said Curt Boganey, city manager. With vehicles parked in the streets, plow drivers are unable to plow from curb to curb, he said.

Plow drivers also have to return to unplowed sections of streets, adding costs and angering residents that have to clear their driveways twice, Boganey said.

“We’ve been fortunate we have not had a large snow storm as of yet, but there is an expectation I think among residents that vehicles can be impounded, and that under certain circumstances, those vehicles will be impounded.” Boganey said. “We do continue to get resident complaints regarding our current snow plowing efforts.”

This year, the city implemented a pilot impound payment program, according to Boganey. In this program, residents that demonstrate financial hardships can retrieve their vehicle with a $50 down payment. The remaining balance of their bill could then be paid in installments over time, Boganey said.

The city has issued 112 citations for vehicles parked in the street during snow emergencies this winter season. However, no vehicles have been towed solely for violating the snow emergency ordinance this season.

“This winter season we have had four snow events,” Boganey wrote in a memo to the council. “On the first, second and fourth events, Mayor Elliott issued proclamations nullifying the snow event parking ordinance. On the third event, staff had assumed a proclamation would be issued so vehicles were not towed.”

By comparison, during the first season with a towing ordinance, the city issued 156 citations and impounded 122 vehicles. Another 214 residents moved their vehicles after they were warned of the possibility of an impound. Ten of those vehicles remained unclaimed at the impound lot.

In the second season of operation, the city issued 151 citations and impounded 33 vehicles. Thirty-one residents moved their vehicles after they were warned, and 10 vehicles were left unclaimed at impound lots.

Councilmembers Marquita Butler and April Graves agreed with Elliott. Both said they opposed the towing ordinance when it was approved in 2018, and that they would support repealing it.

“I really strongly agree with most everything that you just said.” Graves said. “When we first had this ordinance suggested before the council I voted against it then.”

While both Councilmembers Kris Lawrence-Anderson and Dan Ryan said they would support a temporary repeal of the ordinance during the pandemic, they were reluctant to offer support for a long-term repeal.

“I have mixed feelings,” Lawrence-Anderson said. “With the pandemic that we are experiencing I would support a non-tow revision to the ordinance, yet I’m also mindful. I’m really conflicted. I completely understand the financial hardship, and yet at the same time I’m also aware of the fact of how many people appreciate the streets being plowed curb to curb.”

She said she would be open to a discussion on the possibility of repealing the ordinance at a later date.

“My position is that I think that the moratorium on towing should apply to the period of the pandemic,” Ryan said. “As long is it has a definite period I would support that, but not an indefinite one where we do away with all forms of enforcement related to snow emergencies and plowing.”

Street parking between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. is not allowed in Brooklyn Center, regardless of the time of year. Street parking is also not allowed for more than six consecutive hours at a time.

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