AVALON — Vehicles without a permit from this island city will risk an immediate tow and possibly a trip to the mainland under a get-tough ordinance tentatively adopted by the City Council last week.
City Manager John Longley said the crackdown is necessary because an increasing number of vehicles are being brought to the island without city permission, resulting in more congestion and wear on narrow, already deteriorating streets. Nearly all streets on Santa Catalina Island are in Avalon.
The head of the Avalon sheriff's station said 30 to 50 vehicles a month are cited for not having permits or for parking illegally.
The city limits the number of personal-use vehicles to 800 because of limited parking space and because it wants to keep streets clear for pedestrian tourists.
More than 500 names are on a waiting list for the coveted blue stickers that say a car is properly registered, and applicants can expect to wait up to five years, said Kathy Bond-Hiatt, city vehicle administrator. The quota does not apply to permits for commercial vehicles, but such vehicles are not allowed to park overnight on city streets.
Because of the quota, many residents get around town in golf carts, which are not restricted. Bond-Hiatt said there are about 450 carts in the city.
But some residents and visitors prefer to drive automobiles and have them brought to the island by barge.
Owners do not need to show a permit to have their vehicles brought to the island, said Jane Sheedy of Catalina Freight, the only barge service between the island and the mainland. "It's really none of my business," Sheedy said. "That's the city's business."
Cars Sent Back Free
The company charges $10.85 per 100 pounds to transport a car to the island, but sending one back is free. The city will also be sending cars back to the mainland, but not for free. Instead of getting a ticket, vehicles in violation of the new ordinance will be towed immediately and stored on the island for up to 15 days. The owner will have to pay a $50 fine, a $50 towing charge and a $10-a-day storage fee.
Using state vehicle registration records, the city will notify the owner of an impounded vehicle, but if it is not claimed within 15 days it will be shipped to the mainland and put into storage for an additional 30 days. If the vehicle is still not claimed, it will be sold.
Sheedy said her company and the city have not discussed the possibility of charging a fee for shipping unclaimed vehicles to the mainland.
Currently, owners of vehicles found in violation are cited and fined $50. But city officials said many of those owners put their vehicles back onto the streets.
"There is a desire from the public that we become very literal in our enforcement of vehicle laws in this community," Longley said.
Lt. Dale Goss of the Avalon sheriff's station said that although he is not against barging vehicles back to the mainland, it might be easier to prevent vehicles without permits from being shipped to the island in the first place. But he agreed that something has to be done.
People who spend their summers on the island have found that getting several tickets is cheaper than renting a golf cart for the summer, he said. There are no car rentals in Avalon, but golf cart rental costs $20 for the first hour and $15 per hour afterward.
The ordinance, which was approved unanimously on first reading, is expected to be passed upon second reading on Oct. 14 and take effect 30 days later.