A plan to tax all Ventura County vehicle owners $1 a year to cover the cost of hauling away abandoned cars and trucks has come under attack by some city leaders, who believe the fee is unwarranted.
In pushing for the new fee last month, Ventura County Transportation Commission staff members said police and code-enforcement officers handled more than 15,500 abandoned-vehicle reports throughout Ventura County during 1992--at a cost of nearly $300,000.
But Thousand Oaks Councilman Frank Schillo, who chairs the commission, said Monday that his city has relatively few abandoned vehicles. He vowed to oppose the new fee.
“We haven’t got people in Thousand Oaks clamoring to get abandoned vehicles off the street,” Schillo said. “If the (other) cities are not staying on top of it, that’s a problem. But I don’t think problems should be solved by charging everyone a dollar.”
In Ventura, which reported 5,027 abandoned vehicles last year, police say the fee is badly needed. Budget problems forced the city to halt daily enforcement of abandoned-vehicle laws in July, 1992.
“It’s been a year now, and it’s obvious,” said John Turner, a Ventura Police Department traffic investigator. “If we were to do a clean sweep to collect abandoned autos today, we would have no trouble clearing 300 vehicles in a few days.”
He added: “We see cars sitting with the engines pulled out. We see people using the hulks of old vans for storage. It’s something the public cares about quite a bit. It doesn’t help property values. People don’t want to live next door to a junk yard.”
At their Sept. 10 meeting, county transportation commissioners will debate the merits of the $1 vehicle registration fee, which would raise an estimated $525,000 for removal of abandoned cars.
County residents already pay an extra $6 a year on their registration fees for other programs such as the emergency highway call-box system.
During a meeting in July, several transportation commissioners expressed reservations about raising the fee again to clean up abandoned cars.
County Supervisor Vicky Howard said she was worried about residents being “nickel and dimed to death” with new fees.
Howard, Schillo and other commissioners voted to let the staff draw up rules regarding how the money might be handed out to the county and its 10 cities.
But Camarillo Councilman David Smith cast the lone no vote, saying the idea should be rejected outright. “I think another dollar on the vehicle-registration fee can hurt,” Smith said.
Since that meeting, Schillo said he has reviewed the scope of abandoned-vehicle problems in Thousand Oaks and now strongly opposes the fee. He said Thousand Oaks drivers would be paying to solve a problem that mostly exists elsewhere in the county.
Schillo referred to a city memo stating that Thousand Oaks received only 100 abandoned-vehicle complaints in 1992. Among these, only 16 needed to be towed away.
But county transportation staff members said the report referred only to cars on private property that were cleared by city code-enforcement officers.
Ventura County sheriff’s deputies handled many other abandoned-vehicle reports on public streets. When these were added in, Thousand Oaks’ total was 1,780, said Chris Stephens, a transportation commission staff member.
Ventura led cities with 5,027 abandoned vehicle reports, he said.
These figures include the times an officer had to investigate a complaint, place a warning on a car or arrange to have it towed if it posed a safety hazard or was not moved within 72 hours, Stephens said.
The figure also accounts for instances when the owner saw the warning and moved the car before it was towed. “These are the numbers provided by the cities and the county,” Stephens said Monday.
Nevertheless, Schillo said he will ask for a detailed explanation of how the staff arrived at the countywide abatement total of 15,500.
If the transportation commission endorses the fee plan next week, it then must be approved by a majority of Ventura County cities, representing more than half of the county’s population. In addition, it would have to be approved by at least four of the five county supervisors.
The endorsements must be forwarded to the state by Oct. 1 in order to begin collecting the new fee next year, county officials said.