Gorham bans towing on Munjoy Hill
Secret move prompted by anger over wreckers’ practices
By Chris Busby
Portland City Councilor Will Gorham had had enough. Tow truck drivers on Munjoy Hill had been speeding through the neighborhood, blocking streets, and bullying residents for months, he said. Then, this past summer, came the incident that finally pushed Gorham “over the edge.”
A wrecker had a car on its hook, but had not yet moved the vehicle. The charge to get an unmoved car off the hook is $25; once it’s been moved, it’s $65. The wrecker driver saw the car’s owners, an elderly couple, come out of their house to retrieve their vehicle. According to Gorham, the driver then “jumped in his truck, moved it two feet, and said, ‘Now you owe me $65.'” The couple did not have that much cash on them, so their vehicle was towed away.
“I said ‘Fuck this,'” Gorham recalled, and he got in touch with City Manager Joe Gray. “I said, ‘I want towing suspended immediately,'” and following a meeting with Gray, city parking division head John Peverada and members of the police department, Gorham got his way.
Except in emergency circumstances, wreckers can no longer tow vehicles on Munjoy Hill. Cars on the wrong side of the street during street-sweeping days are ticketed, but not towed. Towing will take place on the Hill during snow-removal parking bans this winter.
Gorham, who represents District 1 (the East End, downtown and islands) has kept the tow ban a secret, even from fellow City Councilors, because, he said, “I didn’t want people taking advantage of it” by leaving their cars on the wrong side of the street. He also expressed concern City Councilor Karen Geraghty, who represents the West End and Parkside, will demand towing be resumed on the Hill.
Vehicles are not towed from streets off the peninsula, Peverada said.
“Tow truck drivers are out of control,” Gorham said. “They don’t give a shit.” As another example of wrecker drivers’ alleged callousness, Gorham noted the incident this past summer when a tow truck struck and killed a wayward moose on the Hill.
The drivers had been “acting like a bunch of freakin’ renegade cowboys or something,” he said. “We told them to slow down, and they gave us a big ‘Fuck you.'”
“Fuckin’ A, yeah! That’s awesome!” exclaimed Hill resident Katie Brown upon hearing news of the tow ban. “You mean something positive is happening? Holy shit!”
Brown, a member of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization (MHNO), saw the aftermath of the moose collision last summer and was deeply disturbed. She said she’s had to call towing companies in the past when wreckers were idling on her street, waiting for 8 a.m., the hour when they can start hauling cars parked on the wrong side. “One morning my whole apartment filled up with smog,” she said. “I’ve had to call towing companies and ask them to disperse their trucks.”
Brown said she’s previously tried to work on towing issues as part of an MHNO committee, but made little progress. “I never imagined we’d be able to stop the towing,” she said. “I might even have to vote for him now,” she added, referring to Gorham, who is seeking a second term this fall.
One of Gorham’s two challengers for his council seat, Kirk Goodhue, is less impressed, and expressed concern over the way the decision was made: in secret, and at the request of only one of the nine councilors.
“You don’t have policies per neighborhood, you have them for the whole city,” said Goodhue. “You don’t do it for one portion of one district,” he continued, “which happens to be the portion where the councilor lives.”
Gorham lives on North Street, on Munjoy Hill. The ban is not in effect for other parts of his district.
MHNO president Marcos Miller also expressed concern, though he said he doesn’t expect any neighbors to complain about the ban – “nobody likes getting their car towed,” he noted.
“I kind of wonder about one councilor making orders,” said Miller. “Is this how we make public policy? Are we reacting to situations or are we putting out a plan for how things should be?”
“I suspect some of the cynics in the neighborhood might see this is a pre-election gimmick or something,” Miller added.
Gorham’s other challenger, Kevin Donoghue, could not be reached for comment this afternoon. Neither could Gray, Geraghty or several other councilors contacted shortly before this article was posted.
Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who represents East Deering, reacted to the news Gorham had done this by saying, “Good for him.”
“It’s the responsibility of the district councilor to take action, and he did that,” Leeman said.
“I will be the first and foremost to say we have some tow truck drivers that give everybody else a bad reputation,” Leeman continued. “They are relentless about this pursuit of $65 to an awful lot of innocent people. This has been an ongoing complaint for as long as I can remember.”
Wrecker drivers “get a bad rap for a good reason,” Leeman said, though she added not all the drivers are unscrupulous.
The Bollard was unable to reach any tow companies doing business for the city late this afternoon. Peverada said he’s gotten no feedback from wrecker drivers about this decision.
Gorham has. “The tow truck drivers hate me for it,” he said.