In a change that went into effect last Sunday, car owners whose vehicles have been impounded by San Diego police because of owner negligence will pay an extra $40 administrative fee in addition to the existing towing charges, storage fees and parking citations.
But the change could be even more costly, because owners will have to pay the fee at the city treasurer's office, which is closed holidays and weekends. That means that, in some cases, towing companies could keep the vehicles longer. Daily storage charges run about $12 a day.
The change, called the Negligence Impound Cost Recovery Program, was approved by the City Council in April as a way to "try to recover funds in this time of fiscal austerity," according to police spokesman Dave Cohen.
He said the 40,000 cars towed last year cost the city $1.5 million, including computer checks of impounded cars' license plates and salaries.
At the city treasurer's office this week, drivers unaware of the change reacted with grumblings, but went ahead and paid, said Mike Rubalcava, the city's release officer.
"They kind of grunt and pay it because they don't have any choice," he said. "They say they don't like it, but that's as far as it's gone. There's been no heavy opinion yet."
Cohen said the Fourth of July week is one of the heaviest times of the year for beach parking.
"It's a safety problem," Cohen said. In addition to fire vehicles that might not have a place to pull over in an emergency, "what happens sometimes is police officers can't get by with (cars) blocking driveways and side streets."
"We're urging people to do their wallets a favor and park in legal spots," he said.
According to Vykki Mende Gray, the city's parking citations administrator, only about 10% of the cars ticketed in the city each year are towed. Of those, about 80% are towed because of owner negligence, and those owners will be the ones paying the extra fee from now on.
The city treasurer's office, 1222 1st Ave., takes only cash, money orders and traveler's checks.