By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
After months of discussion, change was on the horizon.
It seemed a 2005 city ordinance regarding tow trucks was going to be changed following numerous meetings on the topic and a heaping of input from tow truck company owners.
Even during early discussion at Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting, the sense was tow truck drivers would be able to park their trucks in their own driveways, as long as certain conditions were adhered to.
At the last minute, however, the apparent momentum came screeching to a halt.
When councilors looked at the topic in 2005, a new ordinance prohibited the parking of tow trucks with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds on city streets.
Several tow truck company operators have been seeking a change in that ordinance since February. In June, councilors directed city staff to change the Keizer Development Code to allow for tow trucks under the home occupation provision, upping the GVWR limit to 19,500 pounds as long as sidewalks were not blocked.
Since that entailed altering the development code, the issue was sent back to the Keizer Planning Commission. Following a public hearing on the topic last month, Planning Commission members recommended amendments allowing for trucks up to 26,000 pounds GVWR, with no vehicle being towed or loaded on a tow truck when it is parked on private property, and requiring that tow vehicles be backed onto a driveway to reduce the beeper noises in the middle of the night. In addition, tow trucks couldn’t extend into the sidewalk or right-of-way area.
During Monday’s public hearing, Rhonda Rich with the West Keizer Neighborhood Association noted the WKNA voted against the proposal to allow tow trucks to be parked in neighborhoods.
“There has been only opposition from the residential community,” said Rich, the WKNA president. “I believe we represent the silent majority who are not aware this decision is being made. They won’t realize it until they hear a tow truck in their neighborhood. Then you will hear complaints and people will be told to just live with it or move. Probably most of you don’t think it will happen in your neighborhood. You, as a governing body, decide what is best for maintaining quality of life.
“I would like to suggest the ordinance remain restrictive to tow trucks in neighborhoods, as was passed in 2005,” she added. “There must have been good reasons then, as there are in 2014. Let them figure out a way to do business without disrupting people who find refuge in the place they call home.”
Liz Rumelhart, owner of Wiltse Towing, said she didn’t have much to add since the topic has been hashed out plenty.
“Our intent is not to cause harm to neighborhoods,” Rumelhart said. “Most businesses operate 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.). Ours don’t.”
Councilor Kim Freeman noted Jack Conwell with Affordable Towing had offered her a new perspective last month.
“Tow trucks going in and out of neighborhoods can deter crimes happening at 2 a.m.,” Freeman said. “There could be someone trying to break into a car. We had some good discussions.”
Rumelhart noted that has indeed happened in her neighborhood.
“I catch them,” she said. “I’ve chased off numerous people at 3 a.m. We are here to serve, not to cause mayhem with our neighbors.”
After the hearing was closed, a motion was made to allow the tow vehicles in driveways.
In the subsequent discussion, there was a change.
“Over the last few months there has been a lot of testimony on the issues,” councilor Marlene Quinn said. “I have waded back and forth. My job is to listen to my constituents about the livability in their neighborhoods. I’ve heard every citizen express a desire to not have tow trucks in their neighborhoods. My job is to listen to the constituents. I’ll vote to not have this go forward.”
Councilor Jim Taylor echoed Quinn.
“I’m also not going to support this,” Taylor said. It comes down to if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I don’t think it’s a big issue at night being able to respond. There’s not much traffic. I’ve talked with some officers and they said at night it’s not a big issue.
“A gentleman said early on would you want this parked next to your house?” he added. “No, I wouldn’t. I have talked with a lot of other people, who said they don’t want it either. I would say the vast majority of the 37,000 citizens don’t want tow trucks next to them.”
Freeman noted both tow truck company owners present Monday weren’t aware of the current ordinance in place when discussions began.
“When we want those services, we need them there,” Freeman said. “But I vote no because I listen to the citizens.”
With that, the vote was taken and the measure was rejected on a 5-0 vote, with councilor Dennis Koho and mayor Lore Christopher absent.
Jeff Asher, owner of B.C. Towing, was disappointed with the outcome.
“It’s really sad,” Asher said. “That’s making it hard to do business in Keizer and it’s hard for my employees to do business and live in Keizer. The sad part is there are not that many tow trucks in Keizer.”
At several times over the last several months, the idea of increasing the response time for tow trucks arriving at a scene – currently set by the Keizer Police Department at 15 minutes – was proposed, especially if tow trucks couldn’t be parked in neighborhoods. That part of the issue was not brought up Monday.
“That hasn’t been an issue in the past,” said council president Joe Egli, who filled in as mayor pro-tem on Monday. “We didn’t do anything with that. (Tow truck companies) may come back later and ask us to discuss it.”