Eric Bauer, a 71-year-old, disabled German immigrant living on social security, was recently slapped with a $4,600 towing bill. Bauer came to the United States 27 years ago in pursuit of love and a better life. After receiving citizenship, he continued to work as a carpenter and handyman in Montecito. But starting eight years ago, a succession of bad luck dogged him. First, a 140-pound door fell on top of him, leaving Bauer unable to work. Then, a couple of years later, his girlfriend and his employer died. Bauer bought a used trailer home and had been living in it for the last three years. “It was good, perfect for me,” Bauer said. “No problems for me.”
One day, Bauer parked his vehicle in Isla Vista and left it unattended. “I was parking in a spot that nobody uses,” he said. “It was an open field. I wasn’t even there for more than 24 hours.” When he returned, however, his vehicle was gone. The California Highway Patrol had towed the oversized vehicle for violating parking ordinances. Bauer claimed there were three more RVs in the same location, but his vehicle was the one singled out. Bauer approached 805 Roadside Towing a week later because his other vehicle, an old XC90 Volvo, broke down. With little disposable income or assets to his name, Bauer was unable to pay the large fees necessary to reclaim his RV.
Bauer recalled that his vehicle has been towed more than five times in the past three years and remembered paying his tickets each time. On September 28, Bauer received a letter from Nationwide Debt Management Solutions stating that he owed 805 Roadside Towing $4,595 for towing and storage service. Bauer said, “It’s not right what they are doing, the city, the police department. That’s a crime they are doing!”
Aaron Boucher, owner of 805 Roadside Towing, claimed that his company followed procedure and that towing oversized vehicles like motor homes actually results in a “huge loss” for his business, he said. Under Santa Barbara’s and Goleta’s oversized-vehicle parking ordinances, RVs can no longer be parked on city streets. Boucher said that Bauer’s vehicle was “unregistered, parked on a street that does not allow oversized vehicles, and abandoned for more than 72 hours. The registered owner received multiple notices via USPS, notifying him of his vehicle being in storage. In this case, he chose not to respond until it became a collections account.”
Towing motor homes is a “financial burden,” said Boucher, because of the larger storage space the vehicles take up and the “hazardous waste and illegal narcotics” sometimes found inside them. He estimated that about 60 percent of the vehicles he towed and their associated fees went unclaimed by the owner. As a result, his company must dispose of these vehicles at its own expense.
To recoup some of the costs, Boucher sells approximately a third of the vehicles at a fraction of their original price. He then charges owners $325 per hour for the towing service and $125 per day for storage. After providing a Towing Fees and Access Notice to the owner, Boucher deducts the price he received for the vehicle from the total service costs and sends the owner a bill.
Boucher suggested that Bauer may have “had a large fee because RVs are not worth anything.” He said his company tows about three vehicles every day for law enforcement agencies. He noted that before the ordinance took effect, he towed one or two RVs a month; he now only tows approximately five annually.
Currently, Bauer lives inside his XC90 Volvo. Since losing his trailer, he stated, “I got problems in my lungs.” He struggles to breathe and spends much of his income on medication for his condition.