Rexburg again rejects booting amendment

REXBURG — Once again, members of the Rexburg City Council defeated an amendment aimed at curtailing the city’s “predatory booting problem.”

Council members killed the proposal on a 4-1 vote that followed a lengthy public hearing Wednesday. Similar measures have come before the City Council at least six times in the last 10 to 15 years. Each time the legislation either was tabled or defeated.

The latest defeat played out in front of a packed house of vocal Brigham Young University-Idaho students and apartment complex owners.

Dozens lined up on both sides of the measure, which aimed to prevent booting companies from restricting or towing cars without a specific, case-by-case request or acknowledgment from an apartment owner, authorized agent or law enforcement officer. It also proposed to increase the amount of visitor parking at apartment complexes.

Mayor Richard Woodland brought the amendment forward because Rexburg police respond to civil disturbances related to booting on a weekly basis.

Woodland recently paid the fine of a foreign visitor who felt she’d been unfairly booted. He called the incident an embarrassment to the city.

“This was tabled Jan. 20, 2010 … when the apartment owners and (booting companies) at that point in time said they were going to work on it, but you have not,” Woodland said. “It didn’t happen and it’s come back again to haunt us.”

Many BYU-Idaho students in attendance told stories about booting companies lurking around corners, waiting for the slightest infraction to place a boot with an accompanying $50 fine. Most students admitted they were in the wrong, but said they had little choice given city street parking ordinances (which require permits near campus) and the limited amount of visitor parking at complexes.

“This is unfair — there is only 3 percent visitor parking and we can’t find a place to put our cars. We need more visitor parking and we shouldn’t let private companies take control of our lives,” student Maren Gunnell said.

Apartment owners defended their right to hire a booting companies to patrol lots and protect the parking rights of their paying tenants. They also assured the City Council that students are well informed of the rules. They said booting companies are given specific instructions about when to boot a vehicle.

“We try to accommodate and we try to be nice, but we still need to have our parking for our students and our visitors,” apartment owner Lisette Meynders said. “And this is a life lesson, you’re in university — you know you shouldn’t do it — so don’t park illegally.

Owners said it wasn’t realistic to have operators approve every boot. In large complexes with more than 600 parking places, they said it would require a full-time employee to accomplish the task. Others talked about the safety of managers, who they claim are frequently threatened and their equipment vandalized.

The amendment’s fate was sealed when Councilman Jordan Busby and Councilwoman Donna Benfield said they didn’t believe the city had the right to interfere with private business. A majority of their colleagues agreed.

“I can’t stand the term predatory towing,” Benfield said. “It is a business and it serves a purpose for the apartment owner. Obviously, there are still things that need to be worked through, but I’m not prepared to change it. “