By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
By their nature, tow trucks tend to be big, slow and can take a while to turn around.
Sounds a lot like the current tow truck parking issue being debated by the Keizer City Council.
By a rare 4-3 vote, councilors on Monday voted to allow tow trucks under 19,500 in Gross Vehicle Weight to park in a driveway, assuming they fit in the driveway.
So after several months of debate, the issue is settled, right?
City Attorney Shannon Johnson said allowing such vehicles to park in driveways represents a change in the city’s land use rules, which would necessitate the issue be taken up by the Keizer Planning Commission, which in turn would make a recommendation and send it back to council.
Once the topic comes back to council, Monday’s tight vote could be different.
Meanwhile, the somewhat related topic of response time to an incident – currently 15 minutes in Keizer – will also return to the council at some point.
At the heart of the debate has been whether or not councilors should change an ordinance from 2005 restricting the size of vehicles that can park in neighborhoods. Current city ordinances don’t allow motor trucks over 10,000 GVW to park on public right of way on any public street.
During several meetings, neighbors on the cul-de-sac at Clearview Court have complained of damage and safety issues caused by a B.C. Towing rig being parked on the street.
Though no new public testimony was accepted Monday, councilors had an in-depth discussion. That included a compromise Wiltse Towing owner Liz Rumelhart had suggested recently of allowing tow trucks to park in driveways.
Councilor Cathy Clark sought to make sure the city wouldn’t be liable for damage with the change.
“If heavier vehicles park on a driveway and they damage the driveway, isn’t it up to (property owners) to fix the damage?” asked Clark, getting an affirmative response.
There were several questions about whether having a tow truck parked at a home would constitute a home occupation, which allows for heavier vehicles.
“In this instance, the issue is the 16,000 (GVW) would still be too low for a lot of these vehicles,” Johnson said.
Council president Joe Egli made a motion calling for city staff to come back with an ordinance allowing tow trucks to park under the home occupation rule, while also increasing the response time to up to 45 minutes.
“We felt 15 minutes was too restrictive,” mayor Lore Christopher said.
Johnson felt the issues needed to be separated.
“Response time is not before the council right now,” he said.
“But that is part of the discussion,” Christopher argued. “It impacts that.”
Jeff Kuhns, deputy police chief with the Keizer Police Department, said response time is indeed one of the issues that was brought up by towing companies.
“As a motorist, 45 minutes is too long,” Kuhns said. “It’s different if you’re impounding a car in a parking lot. Those are totally different things. If you have an accident that’s blocking a road, you need to expedite the removal of those vehicles.”
Ultimately councilors decided to hold off on the response time issue.
Councilor Jim Taylor, as he has in the past, disagreed with proposed changes.
“I still see this as a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Then the refrigeration guy will come and ask for a change. I see this as a favor to a tow truck, which is not an emergency vehicle. People I’ve talked to are against it.”
Clark, Christopher, Egli and Dennis Koho voted for the motion to allow tow trucks to park in driveways – assuming they fit – with Taylor, Kim Freeman and Marlene Quinn voting against.
Rumelhart was grateful afterwards about the use of driveways.
“That’s what I asked for,” she said. “I am pleased. I think it will all work out. I suggested that as a way of trying to make the citizens more comfortable.”
Rumelhart isn’t as sure about the odds of the response time being increased.
“I would love longer response time because it’s hard sometimes to get there in 15 minutes,” she said. “They tried to change that rule back in the 1980s but couldn’t get it done.”
B.C. Towing co-owner Jeff Asher doesn’t mind the short response time.
“Many years ago I got a call of a police officer upside down in his patrol car,” Asher said. “You do have life-and-death matters sometimes. The 15 minutes is not a problem.”
Like Rumelhart, Asher appreciates the use of driveways for tow trucks.
“Allowing the use of driveways is a great help,” he said.
B.C. Towing co-owner Ron Duncan had pictures showing issues such as mudholes and parked vehicles blocking visibility long preceded his employee living on Clearview.
“The one thing that’s frustrating is a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute being handled in front of the city council,” he said. “The city needs to have something for neighbors to solve their disputes.”