Our streets are not car dealerships

Floating car dealers who use busy streets as their lucrative sales lots are harming the public in four different ways. They increase risk of accidents as fast-moving traffic must avoid those persons conducting transactions in the right-of-way. They inconvenience residents by hogging hard-to-get parking spaces. They don’t pay any taxes. And they unfairly steal customers from legitimate businesses.

Most local governments ban such roadside car dealerships, which are also already illegal on all state roads. Such bans do not affect residents who simply decide to put a for-sale sign in a window of their personal vehicle as they drive around and park like they normally would.

These laws are intended to halt underground-economy professional auto sales operators who repeatedly buy bargain vehicles at auctions, refurbish them just enough for resale and park several in a row along the Bay Area’s highest-traffic thoroughfares. And unfortunately there is one big loophole hampering eradication of some of the most active bootleg car dealership sites.

On just about any day along San Francisco’s busy 19th Avenue near Stern Grove or busy El Camino Real on the Peninsula, drivers pass blocks where most of the parked cars carry for-sale signs. Two of the most popular El Camino car-display spots in San Mateo County are by the Golden Gate Military Cemetery near Interstate Highway 380 in San Bruno and alongside the Millbrae Office Depot, where the parking lot is used for storing vehicles to replace those sold at curbside.

But because 19th Avenue and El Camino Real are officially state highways, California law is unclear about whether or not local police — the only law enforcement actually patrolling these urban roads — are legally entitled to have street-dealer vehicles towed. As currently written, the law specifies only that the California Highway Patrol or Caltrans can immediately remove any vehicle or structure placed within a state highway for the purpose of selling any article or service.

Senate Bill 279, authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, would close the 19th Avenue/El Camino loophole by empowering local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to enforce California’s existing public-nuisance towing laws. The bill has sailed through the Assembly and Senate and is presently in conference to reconcile minor points from both versions.

SB 279 is expected to reach Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk soon, and we urge him to sign it into law. Local towing authority is necessary to halt these dangerous and blighting street auto dealerships that inconvenience residents and harm businesses in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.

Less direct solutions have previously been tried and failed. The street dealers are scofflaws who ignore red-painted curbs and don’t pay the parking tickets placed on their vehicles. Only rapid, locally enforced towing can take back the public’s streets.

General OpinionOpinion

Just Posted

London Breed, mayor of San Francisco, on May 26, 2021. Black women achieved a historic milestone as mayors of eight major American cities this year and political analysts say the record number points to “the age of Black women in politics.” (Bethany Mollenkof/The New York Times)
Eight Black women who run some of the biggest U.S. cities

By Jennifer Harlan and Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio New York Times… Continue reading

Salesforce Tower and several other buildings in downtown San Francisco can be seen through the fog; climate scientists report that The City’s beloved mascot may be on the decline. (Courtesy Engel Ching)
Is San Francisco losing its fog? Scientists fear the worst

This isn’t just an identity crisis for San Franciscans. It’s an ecological problem

The Bay Area is vying to be one of 16 communities,<ins> spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico,</ins> to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup soccer championships. Games would be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. (Courtesy Bay Area Host Committee, World Cup 2026)
Bay Area launches bid to host World Cup games in 2026

FIFA officials pay San Francisco a visit as they tour prospective venues

Molly Welton’s 10-foot-long camper, sporting a custom wood window and bar, is stationed by a rusty gas station on Lincoln Avenue near the windblown, sandy expanse of Ocean Beach. (Courtesy Paolo Bicchieri)
The spirit of San Francisco is alive and well in Molly Welton’s mobile cafe

California Kahve near Ocean Beach serves coffee and treats with morals and taste

Most Read