Pepe’s Towing Sues San Bernardino Over Its Refusal To Allow It Onto Police Towing Rotation

Pepe’s Towing Service, which over the last decade has been repeatedly frustrated in its effort to obtain a position on the City of San Bernardino’s towing rotation, on October 24, 2018 filed a federal lawsuit against the city and 13 individual defendants affiliated with it.
Each of the defendants are currently elected city officials and/or current or former city employees. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges the defendants violated the company’s rights of free speech and equal protection in the course of rejecting Pepe’s efforts to contract with the city to handle police and code enforcement towing duties.
Among the individual defendants are City Councilmember John Valdivia and Mayor R. Carey Davis, both presently running for Mayor on November 6.
The other individual defendants include current councilmembers, the city manager, the city attorney, the police chief, and several other current and former city employees.
For years, the City of San Bernardino has rejected expanding its towing rotation beyond the group of six towing contractors that presently have a franchise. Pepe’s Towing Service’s owner and president Manny Acosta has been leading the effort to get the city to reopen the request for proposal process to new qualified tow companies. According to William Dance, one of the attorneys representing Pepe’s Towing, “To stymie Mr. Acosta’s effort, in 2005, the city instituted a new requirement, mandating that new city tow contractors have outdoor storage of at least 65,000 square feet. Four of the six present city towing contractors do not meet this requirement. It should be noted that this requirement affects only new tow contractors that contract with the city. The new requirement appeared to be a needless disqualifier for any new competition. The city did not apply this 65,000 square foot requirement to the existing tow contractors, just new ones that may apply, thereby grandfathering an exemption to the storage space requirement for existing tow contractors. It should further be noted that one of the two complying tow contractors recently merged with another, non-contracting towing company to garner a combined, partially unpaved outdoor storage space of 65,000 square feet, achieving numerical compliance. This new 65,000 square foot requirement forced any new tow contractors to compete on an uneven playing field with existing tow contractors and was apparently designed to ensure that no new towing companies could qualify as city tow contractors.”
In addition, Pepe’s alleges in the complaint that all six current tow contractors fail to comply with many key contract terms, including the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. It is further alleged against the City of San Bernardino that the city retaliated against Pepe’s when Acosta brought these breaches of contract to public attention.
Pepe’s Towing Service seeks reconsideration of the decision not to reopen the bidding process, and of its application, and to enforce strict scrutiny of the contract terms and compliance upon existing tow contractors. The complaint also seeks to abolish the 65,000 square foot requirement made applicable only to those who seek to qualify in the future for new towing contracts. The suit seeks to have Pepe’s Towing to be evaluated in the bidding process on the same terms as all the current authorized tow contractors. The suit is Pepe’s, Inc. v. City of San Bernardino et al., 5:18-cv-2277 DDP (SPx). Pepe’s Towing Service is represented in the suit by the law firm Tucker Ellis LLP. Carmen A. Trutanich, the former city attorney of the City of Los Angeles is the lead attorney handling the litigation. Pepe’s towing previously retained Jim Penman, San Bernardino’s former city attorney, to represent it in its petition to the city council to enter the towing rotation.

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