Minneapolis City Council looks to revise booting policy

Some lot owners boot vehicles to warn patrons not to park illegally in their lots.

Emily Kaiser

With very little free parking on and around campus, local business owners are fed up with misuse of their parking lots.

Some lot owners have turned to vehicle immobilization to warn patrons not to park illegally. Companies that perform vehicle immobilization – or booting – are competing for business on campus, pointing fingers at one another for not following rules and breaking several laws.

The Minneapolis City Council is looking at revising the current booting ordinance; it had a Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee meeting about the ordinance Wednesday. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Oct. 8.

Booting is the process of putting a large clamp on a vehicle’s wheel. Once the clamp is on, the auto’s wheels do not turn, said Gene Buell, president of Gopher Towing.

Booting costs illegal parkers less than $100, but towing fees on private property have no cap, said Michael Ordorff, owner of Force Management L.L.C., a parking enforcement company,

Buell said the process takes approximately two minutes and is used to catch the risk-takers.

“I harvest limit testers,” he said. “You get these people that get it figured out that it’s going to take 20 minutes for a tow truck to come.”

Changing the ordinance

The amendments to the current booting ordinance in Minneapolis could allow booting companies to patrol parking lots and could ban remuneration, said City Council Member Paul Zerby, Ward 2, who represents areas surrounding the Minneapolis campus.

Remuneration happens when towing or booting companies pay cash or services for permission to tow and boot from lots. Currently, remuneration is allowed for booting but not for towing.

Ordorff said remuneration happens every day and some companies will continue to do it, even if the ordinance is changed.

“You can write all the laws you want, but it’s just cash in a paper bag under the table,” he said.

Zerby said he has heard allegations of the illegal activity but has no proof it occurs.

Ordorff said his company was set to take over booting at a downtown parking lot, but the company that owned it backed out at the last minute.

“I come to find out through a customer of mine that when (the previous towing company) saw our signs go up, they came in and offered (the lot) $50 a tow, so they used them instead of me,” he said.

Ordorff said he lost up to $25 million in revenue a year from losing the lot’s business.

During a City Council meeting about the issue last week, Zerby brought up concerns about booting companies patrolling lots.

He said patrolling “seems to give rise to people feeling they are being preyed on.”

Buell and Ordorff said they use unmarked vehicles when they are booting cars, but they don’t feel like they’re preying on illegal parkers.

“If you have the signs already and you sit behind the building, that’s just efficient; there’s nothing illegal about that,” Buell said.

Another problem occurs when booting companies use presigned slips to do the booting in the lots, Ordoff said. Under the ordinance, someone from the company who owns the lot must authorize each boot before it occurs.

Right now, businesses must have their employees patrol their properties for violators. Area businesses said they would be happy with a change in the ordinance that allows the booting companies to patrol their lots.

“I have people like Paul Zerby telling me he doesn’t want me using (booting company) ClampDown to monitor my lot,” said Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub and Herb’s bar in Stadium Village. “It’s my lot – people forget that.”

The ordinance will be brought to the City Council again next week.

University booting

Jeffers said she loves the booting service.

“It allows me to monitor my parking lot for my customers,” she said. “Parking around here is a premium, and I want to keep it for my people.”

Jeffers said she boots approximately two to three cars a week.

Theatre In The Round, located on the West Bank, is now using a booting service as a last resort, said Steve Antenucci, the executive director.

“We weren’t having any problems, and then the restaurants opened next door,” Antenucci said. “It started with people parking for just a minute to pick up their food.”

Antenucci said they tried several other options, including painting the curbs yellow, installing $1,000’s worth of signs and hiring a towing company.

“We don’t want to boot. We don’t want to tow, but it was our last resort,” he said.

Busted

When a person is booted, he or she is usually enraged, Buell said.

“When you put a boot on a car and you leave, and then the customer can still see their car and sit in it, they get really aggravated,” Buell said.

Buell cited instances in which his employees, who remove the boots, have been chased around parking lots with metal pipes. They’ve also been injured from attacks, including punches in the face.

“You always give them three to five minutes to call you every name in the book, but you just let it roll off your back and move on,” Ordorff said.

Buell said some will attempt to put his or her spare tire on, take off the clamp with a torch or remove signs and claim he or she wasn’t aware of the parking rules.

It will be “excellent” if the ordinance is changed to ban remuneration, he said, but it will be hard to enforce. He said some companies have nothing to lose and continue to break rules.

“(The Minneapolis City Council) should take the regulations they can and are willing to enforce and get rid of the ones they can’t, because that only favors the limit-testers,” Ordorff said.