Friday, June 14, 2024

A line of parked cars is removed from near Harvard early Sept. 18, 2006, to allow for street sweeping. (Photo: Frank Hebbert via Flickr)

Street sweepings starting in April may be very different from years past, with tickets instead of tows for cars left where cleaners try to do their work – though staff resistance and human nature may undo a split vote Monday by city councillors looking to try the experiment.

The city manager is asked to report back no later than Jan. 31 on the feasibility of eliminating regular towing as part of the street cleaning process.

It was left to city staff to figure out the best approach to doing street cleaning without towing, “including but not limited to an escalating ticketing schedule” such as one used in neighboring Somerville. It could replace, at least for a trial period, the current approach outlined in a council policy order: “a $100 initial towing fee, a $30 ticket … an accumulating surcharge of $35 for each day that the vehicle is not picked up and a $25 letter in the mail if the vehicle is not picked up within 48 hours, all in addition to potentially having to use rideshare to get to the tow yard itself.”

This is the third attempt to end tows in the past seven years, though, and staff have always resisted quitting the practice, councillors said.

“This could be a pilot to say let’s just try it for a couple of months and see what happens. This doesn’t have to be that we’re codifying it for for decades to come,” said councillor Patty Nolan, a co-sponsor of councillor Quinton Zondervan’s proposal. “I do believe that we should take a strong stand” to address the financial and public health consequences of the roving and often idling diesel tow trucks.

There were better ways to accomplish both goals, councillor Paul Toner was sure, including rebates or refunds to low-income residents whose cars got towed. As to communities that ticket instead of tow, “I’m hearing they’re not necessarily doing as good a job as we are cleaning our streets,” Toner said.

Councillor Dennis Carlone had his doubts about the program as well, and whether residents would even see the tickets accumulating on their car. “When the snows hit in [a major storm year ago], I was amazed at how many cars were under the snow for six weeks,” Carlone said. “A good percentage of our cars do not move.”

Setting a date

Zondervan and his co-sponsors originally brought the order forward two weeks ago, but it was paused by councillor E. Denise Simmons, who said she was unhappy it didn’t call specifically for community outreach. “It’s not going to impact people in the more affluent neighborhoods, because they have off-street parking,” Simmons said Dec. 5. “Nowhere in this policy order does it say let’s have a conversation with [the affected] neighborhood.”

Neither her own order on street-cleaning towing relief in 2015 nor her proposed amendments Monday did either, but Simmons and Toner did propose moving the date for a response by staff to March 31 from the end of this month, and she mentioned “more robust outreach” to the community in explaining her amendments.

Waiting until March 31 would be “too late, because then we’ll just be into the next towing season,” vice mayor Alanna Mallon said. After brief discussion of giving staff until the end of February to respond, councillors passed an order calling for a response by Jan. 31.

The order passed 6-1-1-0, with Toner voting no and Simmons voting “present.” Councillor Marc McGovern was unavailable during the roll call.