A new state law taking effect next Monday will ban the practice of impounding vehicles caught at sobriety checkpoints if the driver’s only offense is not having a license. The law was introduced by Gil Cedillo, a Democratic state Assembly member from Los Angeles, who previously failed in an attempt to reinstate the practice of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, who are hit hardest by the checkpoint impounds.
The law has met with harsh opposition in the inland city of Escondido, where six towing companies pay the city $75,000 each per year for the privilege of attending the frequent roadblocks within the city. Any fees collected by the companies are theirs to keep, and one-third of the cars seized end up abandoned, allowing the tow yard to auction them off and keep the proceeds.
The city has towed over 3,200 vehicles in the last five years, including over a thousand at checkpoints where the only purpose was to check for driver’s licenses. These interrogations were later determined to be in violation of state vehicle code.
“It's a terrible law, really disappointing,” police chief Jim Maher told the Associate Press. Checkpoints within Escondido city limits have spiked since he assumed his current role in 2006. They’ve also mushroomed across the state, with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant paying for over 2,500 statewide in the last year.
Others welcome the law. “It was kind of like letting them steal cars,” said Olga Diaz, the only Hispanic member of the City Council. Because towed cars were previously stored for 30 days, impound fees could easily exceed $1,000, causing many to forfeit their vehicles when unable to pay the fines to reclaim them.
Pictured: Olga Diaz