City plan toughens oversight of booting

The City Council has approved new booting company regulations in an effort to reduce complaints about inadequate warnings and predatory practices by booting companies.

In a word, the ordinance tries to make booting activity more "visible" to drivers entering a monitored lot.

Property owners hire booting companies to deter illegal parking. The booting employee clamps a large lock on an illegally parked vehicle's front tire and doesn't remove it until the driver pays a fine.

The new policy requires booting companies to:

  • Post new booting-specific warning signs, including the words "violators booted immediately" and a yet-to-be-determined booting logo, most likely a car silhouette with a triangle on its front tire;

  • Have employees wear uniforms, carry business cards and get conflict management training; and

  • Have a formal dispute resolution process and provide booted vehicle owners with a form that explains it.

The new language also allows a police officer to request a boot removal as a safety valve, in order to prevent personal injury, damage to property and other criminal activity. A city summary said the provision "should be used infrequently."

City Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) has pushed the issue for months, and at one point pursued an all-out booting ban. It put him at odds with some business owners in high-parking-demand areas, who said they needed to hire such firms to protect their parking spaces for workers and customers.

Zerby has complained about what he calls "lurk and pounce" tactics, wherein booting company staff patrols lots waiting for someone to illegally park so they can put on a boot without a warning.

A task force comprised mostly of booting company representatives drafted the latest compromise, Zerby said.

The new language includes a provision requiring individuals monitoring the lot "to remain visible at all times." As a city summary explained it, "The parking lot monitor would not be able to hide in a location outside the lot."

That provision rankled Tom DeVincke, a representative of Clamp Down Parking Enforcement. During an April 20 public hearing, he asked the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee to strike the word "visible," which he called meaningless.

"I don't have any invisible employees," he said.

After the committee discussed the meaning of the word visible and possible alternative language, Council member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) referred to the debate as "dancing on the head of a pin."

"There will be some gray areas, and there is no way to avoid that," he said, calling the proposal "a good faith effort."

The new ordinance also requires booting companies to have a written agreement with the lot's owner regarding lot patrols and to file a copy with the city.

If a company is actively monitoring the lot, employees must post signs at each entrance informing the public. Each booting company will determine appropriate conflict management training and send documentation of its completion by its staff to the city.

The company must staff a telephone line - with a real person - whenever an employee is working or if the company has outstanding booted vehicles. (The current ordinance required a 24-hour phone line.)