The streets are not used car lots 

Oh dear, are some people getting away with committing capitalist acts between consenting adults? Forgive us if that’s our first, sarcastic reaction to the news that state Sen. Leland Yee wants to end, by legislation, the practice of selling used cars parked on the streets. We’re even taken aback by the description of these folks as "illegal car dealers" (thus described because they operate without business licenses and don’t pay taxes) because such private transactions don’t exactly violate the laws of nature.

We might even wonder if established auto dealers have enlisted the San Francisco Democrat’s helpin pushing an anti-competitive connivance — always a worthy suspicion when such bills are introduced. And there are always people who fall into conniptions when they think they see other people getting away with practices that don’t fit conventions. Those emotions are always good for generating political groundswells.

All that said, it appears Sen. Yee has hit upon serious reasons to target the streetside car sellers. For starters, there’s that matter of public safety: Car doors opening and closing on busy thoroughfares; customers prancing around and between cars, maybe even — if anybody does this anymore — kicking tires; buyers signing checks on car hoods, exchanging them for keys and titles. It’s not the sort of human activity that should be conducted within a few inches of speeding motorists.

Secondly, the specific thoroughfares Sen. Yee cites as Exhibit A — El Camino Real and 19th Avenue, those two main connectors between San Francisco and San Mateo — happen to stretch alongside residences and businesses that should expect first dibs on all those parking spaces. Cars marked for sale are known to occupy those spaces for days on end, effectively (the owners seem to think) establishing squatters’ rights.

Don’t local police tow these flivvers after an insufferable amount of time? Answer: They would if the spontaneous used car lots operated on city streets. The sellers have found a legal aperture through which they can operate unmolested by the authorities — namely, that 19th Avenue and El Camino Real and other roadways like them happen to come under the jurisdiction of the state. Only the California Highway Patrol, under the law, is permitted to mark a vehicle for towing. The CHP’s resources are exhausted by patrolling the freeways.

Sen. Yee’s legislation would permit local police to tow these long-parked for-sale vehicles, and we do hope he has found a way to make the streets safer and more hospitable to the people who liveand do other sorts of business near them. We trust it’s not so broadly written that it will make outlaws of two parties, friends or relatives, who sit in a car’s front seat and change its ownership.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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