The first major overhaul of city towing laws in decades passed unanimously through the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night.
Assembly members Dick Traini and Paul Honeman in October proposed a wide-ranging set of changes, the culmination of efforts to crack down on steep impound fees and what they called predatory practices in "non-consensual" tows.
In the weeks since, the Assembly has heard testimony from members of the towing industry unhappy with various provisions of the law, including extended business hour requirements, new on-scene release policies and a $225 cap on all non-consensual impounds.
The ordinance adopted Tuesday includes a series of changes from the original proposal by Traini and Honeman that largely ease up on the requirements that drew the most vehement opposition. The original proposal, for example, required tow companies to stay open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The adopted ordinance returns to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, though it requires companies to offer an after-hours release option.
Tow companies will be allowed to charge a maximum of $235 for a "non-consensual" impound on a normal-size vehicle, an increase of $10 from the original proposal. Notably, the adopted version of the law breaks down non-consensual impound costs by the weight of the vehicle -- impound fees for a "medium-duty" vehicle, weighing between 10,001 and 29,999 pounds, are set at a maximum of $335.
A non-consensual impound for a heavy-duty vehicle, weighing 30,000 pounds or more, will cost no more than $200 per hour.
Other revisions include adding a fuel surcharge for impounds that require more significant travel, capped at $3 per mile. After hearing concerns from tow operators about safety, Traini and Honeman also did away with a requirement for a tow operator to wait on the scene 30 minutes before towing a vehicle.
The law differentiates between "unloaded" and "loaded" vehicles for an on-scene release. "Unloaded" means the tow operator has arrived on scene but the vehicle to be towed has not been loaded onto the tow truck; "loaded" means the vehicle has been attached to the tow truck and its wheels are off the ground, on a dolly or a flatbed deck.
The maximum amount a tow operator can charge to release an unloaded vehicle in a non-consensual tow is $50. For a loaded vehicle, the fee is $75.
Also under the new rules, tow operators are not allowed to park within 1,000 feet of a private parking lot near a commercial building for the purpose of "covert observation." But Traini and Honeman tweaked their original proposal to allow such surveillance if a sign is posted stating that the lot is being monitored onsite. That provision came in response to concerns from operators who patrol the Bear Tooth Theatrepub area and need to see whether people enter the business after parking where they aren't supposed to.
Max Riggs, owner of Riggs Towing and one of those who voiced concerns about Traini and Honeman's original ordinance, said in an interview Tuesday he was generally happy with the version that was ultimately adopted.
"It's a heck of a lot better than it was three weeks ago," Riggs said.
Other tow operators were less pleased. Gaylene Larrecou, general manager of AreaWide Towing, called the ordinance a "big blow for private property owners." During public testimony, Larrecou told the Assembly she thought the ordinance was close to being ready but that the towing industry should have been given more time to review the final version, which was made available Monday.
She also predicted that policies surrounding after-hour releases would be a "big problem."
During the meeting, Traini said he didn't want to wait any longer to approve the measure. He said it's been in the works since 2008.
"It's done," he said.
Assembly member Amy Demboski, however, said she would be listening for safety concerns related to tow operators spending more time at a scene because of the new requirements.
Provisions regarding license applications and fees are effective immediately, according to an amendment adopted Tuesday night by the Assembly. All other provisions, such as after-hours requirements, take effect Jan. 1.
The full text of the law is available on the Assembly website, www.muni.org/assembly. A "Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Towing," to be given to all customers who receive a non-consensual tow, can also be viewed in Assembly documents online.