Council changes SAFEclear…again…sort of

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According to this Matt Stiles story, city council has agreed to change the SAFEclear program so it is in line with a judge’s ruling:

The council voted 12-3 to do away with the exclusive freeway segment contracts — which paid for about 30 percent of the $3 million program — and some price regulations for motorists who consented to long-distance tows.

Most of the program, which includes the mandatory tows that White says unclog freeways and increase safety, remains.

But the changes expand the rights of motorists to call their own towing companies — through the American Automobile Association, for example — if those wreckers arrive before one designated for Safe Clear.

Maybe it’s too early for me, but I’m confused. In the quote above, Council voted to do away with exclusive freeway segments, but then the story says this:

Suzanne Poole, president of the towing association, which filed the suit along with three excluded operators, said the council’s vote left her “disappointed and disgusted.”

She had wanted all towing companies to have equal access to the program. Despite the changes, she said, they still would be shut out of freeway tows by the program.

“This has not been opened up enough for us or what we feel like the judge wanted it to be opened up to,” she said, suggesting that she and individual members might file new lawsuits challenging the updated ordinance.


It was that sentiment that prompted Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who has criticized the program’s costs, to try to amend the ordinance to allow all qualified wreckers to participate.

She said her measure would add fairness to the process — and save the city money on legal fees from the current or future lawsuits.

“It would not gut the program. It would just satisfy what the judge has said was causing significant concern and harm to the operators,” she said. “It would not, in any way, dismantle the point of improving safety or mobility.”

The mayor opposed her amendment, saying city-designated towing companies should continue being assigned specific freeway segments to ensure they can respond to incidents safely and quickly.

The council then defeated Sekula-Gibbs’ amendment by a 14-1 vote.

So, was the program opened up to all towing companies or not?

[U.S. District Judge Kenneth] Hoyt ruled that city regulation of those prices was pre-empted by federal law. He also held that the exclusive contracts were driven by economics, not safety.

With the exclusive contracts no longer a part of the program, the city loses about $900,000 in revenue paid by those towing companies for access to the freeways.

I am completely lost — which makes me wonder if a Chron editor got ahold of this story, or if I need another cup of coffee.

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