Those forced to wait a month dare not dawdle, however. In a Kafkaesque twist, car owners then have only 15 days to pay up; 45 days after impoundment, all remaining cars go to auction. Every Friday at 10:00 a.m., on Barham Drive in Escondido, RoadOne Auto Auction, which also claims to be the county’s largest towing service, brings in the vocal talents of auctioneer Joe Bradley and company to liquidate the vehicular booty.
Issues of personal liberty and fairness aside, and notwithstanding the public safety rationale proffered by checkpoint proponents and enforcers, other objections have surfaced. Specifically, questions have been raised about how the impound spoils have been accounted for and spent by the City of Escondido. Leiendecker doesn’t know what Escondido — whose official motto is “City of Choice” — does with its windfall. She muses, “Escondido City salaries, pension plans…perks like Christmas parties?”
She’s dead sure, though, that something’s rotten in North County, opining that Escondido’s alleged financial improprieties can be traced to the City’s violation of what she terms “strict federal guidelines.” The guidelines to which she refers are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, a body of administrative law consisting of rules and regulations promulgated under the rubric of federal statutes. In addition to citing Title 41 of the regulations, she also points to the California Office of Traffic Safety’s grant application forms and manuals; in short, Leiendecker claims that the City of Escondido has violated California and federal law, both of which mandate that the funds must be segregated from other funds and profits used only for the grant-funded program itself.
City-council members, including Sam Abed and Marie Waldron, are on record as not only supporting the enterprise but also suggesting ways to supersize revenues. As for the Escondido Police Department, it weighed in a while back with a 16-page analysis that concluded that the City could make up to $2.4 million a year, up from the current (estimated) $700,000.
In an effort to clarify Escondido’s handling of the grant funds and profits derived from the checkpoint impounds, I contacted the mayor’s office, which handed off my inquiry to Lieutenant Craig Carter of the Escondido Police Department, who was unavailable for comment. I also placed a call to Michael McGuinness, Escondido’s assistant city attorney, who stated that funding issues are strictly the province of the police department. McGuinness, who defended the checkpoints as an incentive for unlicensed and/or uninsured motorists to “get their act together,” maintained that citizens opposed to the seizures should “take it up with the [California State] Legislature.” “We’re just enforcing the law.” However, McGuinness had no answer when I asked if there was anything requiring Escondido to operate the checkpoints.
When asked to comment on allegations that the checkpoints are more about municipal revenue than motoring safety, McGuinness denied any knowledge of the city council’s on-record discussions of the matter. He also disputed the notion that Escondido rakes in profits from its weekend tow parties. “I wouldn’t use the term ‘profit’ with a municipality.” When I suggested the alternative term, “net revenue,” he demurred again. “I won’t agree to adopt ‘net revenue’ either.”
Those who view the police checkpoints in a different light aren’t getting any help from the courts, however. On June 30, the California Court of Appeal (reviewing a case in which a man’s car was seized after he was snared at a checkpoint with a suspended license) rebuffed the latest constitutional challenge to vehicle seizures and impoundments. Notwithstanding the latest judicial imprimatur of Escondido’s cash cow, Jenifer Leiendecker is adamant. “It’s extortion, and local residents don’t even get a cut of the action.”■