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Tow operator says city ignoring him due to race
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A South Ninth Street towing company owner is charging that the city of Ceres has refused to do business with him, saying that it may have everything to do with discriminating against Latinos.

Now Art Amirkhas vows to file a complaint with the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury to look into the matter.

Amirkhas of City Tow said that over the past seven years he's asked to be placed on the city's rotation list but nobody has followed up. At two recent City Council meetings Amirkhas protested what he calls an "arbitrary process" and expressed that he is "frustrated with the selection process." Amirkhas hinted he may pursue legal options if he doesn't receive consideration.

"I have an excellent case against the city... a case that could be damaging to their image," said Amirkhas. "But my intent is not to make them look bad so I'd prefer not to go that route."

He told the Courier last week that he's in the process of filing a complaint with the Civil Grand Jury.

The Ceres Police Department routinely calls on a list of local tow companies selected for the "rotation list" to remove vehicles that have been in accidents on city streets or seized by officers due to drunk driving, or unlicensed driver. Each city has the discretion of how many companies to place on the list and the criteria. Ceres has said it only wants eight companies and that all must be located within a mile of the city limits to ensure fast response to calls for service.

Four years ago there was a slot on the rotation list and Amirkhas said he applied and was told that his shop at 300 Primo Way, Suite D, off Crows Landing Road, was 100 to 200 feet past the one-mile circle around the city. So Amirkhas said he moved his office to 723 S. Ninth Street in late 2005 at a cost of $70,000 expressly to be within the mile and qualify for consideration. While he agrees that he made the move with no guarantees he would be selected, he thought he would receive consideration once he applied. All he knows is that the city didn't hire him.

DeWerk said the city took applications from all interested tow companies and "selected the ones most suitable to meet the city's needs."

Amirkhas told the council on June 14 that he feels like he's "being discriminated against."

"I'm just really frustrated.. what did I move for?" said Amirkhas. "I just want to be treated fairly."

Amirkhas said he considers his firm "an elite company" that already services the Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol and both Modesto and Ripon police departments.

He also insists that the city's rotation list includes no minority owned tow companies and that department should "level the playing field."

Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk called Amirkhas' charge of racism a "very unfortunate assertion." "We don't decide on the basis of race. This is a business issue we're talking about. It boils down to satisfying this one man and gain nothing for citizens and add to the department's workload."

DeWerk said it takes valuable staff time managing the tow list and insuring that companies comply with city rules. About two years ago the city revamped its towing rotation policy which calls for tow operators to meet certain standards and insure that companies maintain equipment. Ensuring that those standards are being met falls to the city and is a chore, said deWerk, and is a "substantial administrative task." Adding more companies would mean more staff time in an effort when personnel is already spread thin.

Amirkhas criticized Ceres for setting the number of eight tow providers, noting that Ripon has 20. DeWerk, however, said it takes valuable staff time managing the tow list and insuring that companies comply with city rules. If Ripon has 20, suggested deWerk, "maybe they have more time."

"It simply isn't justified to have more," asserts deWerk. "Every 24 hours a tow company gets a call only 2.5 times. Our deal is we want to make sure there's enough tow companies when there's more than one call-out. It's arguable we could have several less positions." He explained that there is less need for calls for tow service with a decrease in the number of miles being driven in the current bad economy.

Amirkhas responded by saying: "There's a lot more business in Ceres than the chief lets on. Where does he come up with this number? I think that's very archaic and I don't know if that's intentional."

Amirkhas expressed frustration that deWerk has not talked to him about the issue. The chief, however, said "this is not personal. It's just that it's not a high priority for us given negotiations and budget." He said Sgt. Jose Berber has spoken to Amirkhas about his grievances.

DeWerk said the city has the option of removing an existing company on the list to replace it with City Tow but he added, "that doesn't seem fair." Even if one of the existing companies drops off, automatically adding City Tow would not be proper because "it would be fair to open up to a competitive process."

Amirkhas called towing a "very, very difficult business," and admits being on the rotation list would give his business a boost. In talking to the tow companies on the list, Amirkhas said he would expect to receive five to eight calls a week depending on if the city conducts a checkpoint, generating $10,000 to $20,000 in gross revenue per month. Besides the actual charge to tow, companies make most of their money impounding cars in their own yards. A new law requiring the vehicles in DUI cases to be stored for 30 days which can cost the owner $1,100 to $1,300.

Ralph Khoshaba, owner of Tow One on South Ninth Street, also wants to see the city expand its numbers of companies on the list. He said he's been trying to get a slot since 2001. He said he was made promises to be added by a sergeant who oversaw the program but who later retired.

"If we meet the criteria we should be on the list also," said Khoshaba. "It would improve the revenue of our business with the economy being this bad. It would probably help us add another driver."

Khoshaba said three companies are in violation of city's rules. DBM Towing on Nathan Avenue is located over a mile from the city. Other companies changed hands, violating the city's rule that if a company changes hands then the company must reapply.