2012-05-10 / Front Page

Council decreases impound fees

Report by Ventura County grand jury leads to change
By Kyle Jorrey


OVERCHARGED—The Thousand Oaks City Council voted Tuesday to reduce vehicle release fees for cars impounded in the city from $300 to $220 after the grand jury discovered that an administrative fee that was being charged was not allowed under the state vehicle code. OVERCHARGED—The Thousand Oaks City Council voted Tuesday to reduce vehicle release fees for cars impounded in the city from $300 to $220 after the grand jury discovered that an administrative fee that was being charged was not allowed under the state vehicle code. Individuals who’ve had their cars impounded in Thousand Oaks in the past three years for driving without a license or driving on a suspended license are entitled to an $80 refund, the City Council decided Tuesday.

In response to a report by the Ventura County grand jury, the council voted 4-0 to decrease its non-DUI vehicle release charge from $300 to $220, removing an $80 administrative fee that went to support the Smart Start youth driving program offered by the California Highway Patrol and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. The report found that the administrative fee Thousand Oaks was charging to support Smart Start and other traffic safety programs in the city was not allowed under the state vehicle code. Thousand Oaks is the only city in the county to collect such a fee.

The council also agreed to provide a refund to anyone who was charged the fee since it was instituted on July 1, 2009.

“As soon as it was pointed out that it was inaccurate to do, we changed it to $220,” TOPD Cmdr. Randy Pentis told the council.

Those who have been charged the fee will receive a letter offering a refund, he said. The city owes about $40,000 in refunds, Pentis said.

The grand jury is made up of county residents and is responsible for investigating the various departments and special districts of the county and city government. In a report that came out in March titled “Vehicle Impound Fees in Ventura County,” the grand jury found that Thousand Oaks had the highest non-DUI vehicle release fee in the county. The average fee for the county is $137, according to the report.

“While (Smart Start) is an excellent program, the law doesn’t allow them to charge a fee for that item,” said David Gale, grand jury foreman. “Cities can’t charge for anything that’s not related to the release of the vehicle.”

The Smart Start fee was intended to provide the program with help in preventing future and new drivers from having their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked.

The three-hour class, which is offered several times a year at the Thousand Oaks Police Station, is designed as an educational tool for parents and teenagers in an effort to reduce the number of teenage injuries and deaths resulting from traffic collisions.

Explaining why the fee went to an educational driving program, Pentis said, “Many traffic accidents are caused in the city of Thousand Oaks by unlicensed drivers and drivers that had their license privilege suspended by the court.”

The police chief told the Acorn that the fee cancellation will not affect Smart Start’s schedule. The next class will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thurs., May 17.

“We go over the rules of the road and safety,” Pentis said. “It’s always a benefit when we teach a class with parents there. It generates conversations between young drivers and their parents.”

In the coming months, city staff will send a letter to each registered owner of a towed vehicle informing them about the refund and how they can obtain it.

Gale commended the City of Thousand Oaks for acting swiftly to remove the fee and for agreeing to issue refunds, an action not requested by the grand jury.

“I think (the city) is to be commended,” he said. “They didn’t realize what they were doing was against the law. Now they realize it and they’re making the correction, so good for them.”

Gale added that Thousand Oaks officials were cooperative throughout the course of the grand jury’s investigation, which lasted several months.

“They . . . answered all our questions,” said the foreman. Acorn reporter Anna Bitong contributed to this story.

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