Roadside-car bill to pass state Senate

A legislative bill that aims to curb the selling of used cars along state highways is expected to pass the state Senate on Monday and could be approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger later in the week.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, would close a statutory loophole that allows people to park for-sale vehicles along roads such as El Camino Real and 19th Avenue in San Francisco, where local police departments lack the authority to tow cars.

Merchants and city officials have long complained of such operations, saying they clog up scarce parking spaces. They are largely organized underground by people who skirt taxes and business permitting processes, officials say. Roads such as El Camino Real and 19th Avenue fall under the jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol, but CHP officers rarely frequent them.

Some cities have responded by red-curbing the road. But car sellers simply move their mobile operations elsewhere.

“It’s a fly-by-night operation,” said John Ford, president of Millbrae’s Chamber of Commerce.

Yee’s bill, if passed, would categorize such operations as a public nuisance and give city police officers authority to tow cars on state highways. The bill has received bipartisan support from lawmakers who have similar problems in areas they represent. For example, coastal towns up and down Highway 1 also endure the selling of used cars along the road, said Yee’s spokesman, Adam Keigwin.

“We’ve received letters from almost every community in the Peninsula in support of it,” Keigwin said. “SamTrans, the City/County Association of Governments and the Sheriff’s office all support it. L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca supports it. We’ve known for a long time about the problem on 19th Avenue and El Camino, but what we have seen is that it occurs in other jurisdictions.”

Millbrae police Cmdr. Marc Farber said such operations clog city parking and attract vandalism and car theft.

“They ended up using our parking lot to consummate their deals,” said Art Schwass, general manager of El Rancho Inn on El Camino in Millbrae. He added that on two separate occasions, his employees who parked in parking spots usually used by car dealers ended up with broken windshields.

“It got to a point where they thought those spots belonged to them,” Schwass said.

Yee’s bill, SB 279, passed the state Assembly on June 21 with a 68-7 vote. If it passes the state Senate next week, Schwarzenegger will have 10 days to sign it into law.

bfoley@examiner.com

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