Crackdown on rogue towing OK’d as council tries to end a ‘public safety nightmare’

Aldermen voted to create licenses for tow truck operators, require a $250 license for every truck they use and license the locations where towed vehicles are stored. They also OK’d a Friday night Cubs game and a plan to renovate two buildings near McKinley Park for affordable housing.

SHARE Crackdown on rogue towing OK’d as council tries to end a ‘public safety nightmare’
The city approved new regulations on towing companies Wednesday.

The city approved new regulations on towing companies Wednesday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Archivos Sun-Times

The City Council agreed Wednesday to end what one alderman called a “public safety nightmare”: rogue tow truck drivers who rush to accident scenes, snare damaged vehicles and hold them hostage until rattled motorists pay exorbitant fees.

At the behest of Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the Council approved a revised ordinance that calls for the city to establish a license for tow truck operators, require a $250 license for every truck they use and license the locations where vehicles they tow are stored.

Last month, the towing crackdown stalled in committee amid concern about the impact on city contractors.

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Villegas, who championed the ordinance, salvaged it in part by exempting city vendors, provided that vehicles not working on city contracts purchase annual city licenses.

On Wednesday, Villegas took a victory lap.

“This has been a public safety nightmare. … Whatever is currently in place is not working,” Villegas said, referring to current regulations by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

“This license … will create accountability for both the good and bad actors and life-changing protections for all communities. ... Today is the beginning of a safer and more accountable tomorrow.”

Sgt. Keith Blair of the Chicago Police Department’s Major Auto Theft Unit has called towing abuses a “very serious problem” that has “overloaded” CPD and hampered its ability to investigate the number of vehicles towed illegally from crash scenes.

“They’re using any method necessary to try and obtain control of an unsuspecting victim’s vehicle. Promising them free rental and [making] other promises that they never fulfill. And they end up holding these cars hostage,” Blair told aldermen during a committee hearing last month.

“They’re closely aligned in some areas with gangs. ... Much like we see gang conflicts, we see gang conflicts among tow drivers as well.”

The ordinance also would prohibit certain acts, such as:

• Stopping “at or near” an accident scene or near a damaged or disabled vehicle to solicit the vehicle owner unless summoned to the scene by law enforcement, other city or state agencies or the vehicle owner or his or her representative.

• Making any false, misleading or threatening statements to the vehicle owner for the purpose of coercing the owner to engage the operator’s towing services, such as claiming to be affiliated with a government agency or insurance company that would cover the towing cost.

• Holding a towed vehicle against the owner’s will until the motorist agrees to pay a “ransom” fee amounting to thousands of dollars.

Plan to renovate historic building for apartments approved

A plan to redevelop two historic buildings on Pershing Road across from McKinley Park, that will include 120 units of low-income housing, was approved on a 36-13 vote after a debate over the project’s proximity to MAT Asphalt.

Extra Cubs night game

Also on Wednesday, the Cubs got the go-ahead to play a rare Friday night game on June 18 against the Miami Marlins because the team returns to Chicago late the night before after playing the Mets in New York.

Normally, Friday and Saturday night games are off limits because they exacerbate parking and congestion problems in Wrigleyville on a night restaurants and nightclubs draw their biggest crowds.

But at the behest of local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection agreed to make the one-time exception due to the Cubs’ travel schedule, hoping a better-rested home team would be more likely to defeat the Miami Marlins.

“It’s a pretty simple ask. This is to move a day game that was scheduled for Friday, June 18 to a night game. ... We’ve done it in the past on a very limited basis to help accommodate tight travel schedules in the hopes that a well-rested team might get us in the playoffs,” Tunney said.

“The Cubs, traditionally by the night game ordinance, were not allowed Friday or Saturday night games without this kind of exception. ... This was done historically because generally, in Lake View and other communities, Friday and Saturday night are the busiest nights for restaurants, theater and other uses that really are necessary to keep these businesses alive. When there’s a game around Wrigley Field, there’s too much congestion and parking issues for other businesses to really survive.”

Contributing: Brett Chase

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