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Accident fee brings protestors to City Hall Jon Campbell | Fri, Jun 18 2010 06:24 PM

Community activists gathered on Tuesday at Chula Vista City Hall to protest what they dubbed a "crash tax" under review by the City Council inside. The council was considering the adoption of a plan to charge drivers who cause major accidents for the cost of emergency personnel responding to those accidents.

Members of the Chula Vista Civic Association said the action being contemplated amounted to double taxation, because emergency services provided by the fire department are already paid for with tax dollars.

The group's president, Ed Herrera, spoke to the media before the council's vote.

"We are here to protest what we think is a back door tax on the people of Chula Vista," said Herrera, with a crowd of about a dozen sign-toting demonstrators behind him.

The item the group opposed would have hired an outside company to collect fees from drivers who cause serious accidents in the city. State law already allows cities to collect money from drivers who damage city property or incur emergency services costs either "willfully" or "negligently."

Although any city can collect the fees, which are typically paid by auto insurance, many cities don't because of the expense of actually pursuing liable parties. Fire Recovery USA specializes in collecting such fees; the measure on Tuesday's agenda would have established a contract with that company to collect on the city's behalf.

Fire Chief Dave Hanneman has said the fees would only be charged when an accident requires the cleanup of hazardous waste, something he said happens about 420 times per year. Chula Vista's council ultimately defeated the measure on a vote of 4-1, but said they will bring it forward again after more research. Councilman Mitch Thompson was the only official voting in favor of the measure.

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