ACLU to Escondido: Show Us Your Papers

SAN DIEGO – To ensure transparency and accountability as Escondido responds to criticism that it is improperly profiting from impounding vehicles at traffic checkpoints, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties sent a letter to the Escondido City Clerk requesting copies of key records relating to how the City finances its checkpoint and towing programs.

On Tuesday, the San Diego ACLU published a report, Wrong Turn: Escondido’s Checkpoints and Impound Practices Examined, which raises questions about the hundreds of thousands of dollars—or more—that are pouring into Escondido’s coffers as a result of the city’s checkpoints and impound practices. The report includes new information uncovered by documentary journalist John Carlos Frey, who produced a five-minute video on Escondido’s checkpoints.

In response to Frey’s charges and the ACLU report, the Escondido City Manager Clay Phillips has called for the city’s finance department “to conduct a review of [its] towing fees.”

Because the City of Escondido has not agreed to an independent audit, the San Diego ACLU is seeking copies of relevant records to preserve the records in the event of a subsequent independent review. Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego ACLU said, “A review by City staff whose colleagues played a role in the original figures won’t be seen as ‘independent’ in anyone’s books.”

“We have requested these documents so that we can get a clearer picture of what really is motivating Escondido,” said David Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU. “The people have a fundamental right to open and accountable government.”

The request seeks records relating to the following 5 categories:

  • Grants received from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) for operating sobriety checkpoints.
  • Any application the City has submitted or intends to submit to OTS for the 2012-2013 Sobriety Checkpoint Grant Program.
  • Income or revenue generated as a result of activities funded by OTS, including but not limited to any notices or reports made to OTS concerning such income or revenue, as required by OTS rules.
  • Decisions about the fees charged to towing companies for contracts to tow impounded vehicles. State law limits such fees to the “amount necessary to reimburse” the City “for its actual and reasonable costs incurred in connection with the towing program.”
  • Decisions about how much to charge owners to recover impounded vehicles. State law limits such fees to the “administrative costs relating to the removal, impound, storage, or release” of impounded vehicles.

The city of Escondido has ten days to respond to the request.

Read the letter here.