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August 2002 Rant

"Toughest Inoperable Vehicle Law in the State?"

Does the City of Hopewell have the toughest inoperable vehicle law in the State of Virginia? I think so. Maybe Hopewell needed to be number one in something. After years of being the state’s leader in toxic air pollution the city was recently bumped down to number two. And maybe some junkyard or scrap dealer needs to make some more money.

So how tough is the new law? You can only have one “inoperable” vehicle and it must be properly covered with a fitted car cover in good condition. Or you may keep it in an enclosed garage. If you have an inoperable vehicle the police will let you know that you have 10 days to do something or they can tow it. The old law required a court order to tow a car. You can forget the good old days when the Bill of Rights and the Constitution guaranteed you something called due process. But you really don’t have to worry about a vehicle being towed. They’ll just fine you $250 per day until you sell it a junkyard or scrap dealer. The old law was only $100 per day like most counties and cities in the area. The boy that started the tire fire in Roanoke that cost over $2 million to put out could only be fined $2500 if he were an adult – equal to 10 days of having a car sitting in a yard in Hopewell.

Not only does this law cover residents properties but also businesses. Other localities exclude businesses from their inoperable vehicle laws. Every auto repair business has a few inoperable vehicles. This law will not be good for businesses that specialize in automobile repair and will certainly keep auto restoration businesses out of Hopewell.

Two weeks before the Hopewell City Council announced this new law a car hobbyist pleaded that they allow him two inoperable vehicles and he would gladly pay a fee for having the cars. The council members said they would think it over. It sounded like a good idea. Of course they didn’t go along with the hobbyist.

How does Hopewell define “inoperable”? If you remove the engine, wheels or tires for 60 or more days; if the car doesn’t have a valid license plate or inspection sticker and my favorite: “not in operating condition”.

Here’s one to ask a high school government teacher: a Hopewell police spokesperson says that the law will not be enforced until sometime this fall. Maybe the police can consider not enforcing some other laws for a while.

Why does Hopewell need such a tough law? This law is just the first of many laws promised by the council to clean up Hopewell and increase property values. Cleaning up the city is a priority of council. They believe getting rid of all those inoperable vehicles will encourage people and businesses to move to Hopewell and stay for many years. I think the car hobbyist mentioned earlier might be considering not remaining in Hopewell but moving out of Hopewell - same for any auto repair businesses.

Here’s another story. A guy in Roanoke adds on to his front porch so that his 94-year-old mother can sit on the porch in her wheelchair. He then decides to extend the roof over the porch to keep the sun out of his mother’s eyes. The city said no to the roof because it would be within 30 feet of the property line. So instead of a roof he builds 10 wooden donkey figures and places them – legally – in his front yard and writes the names of the city leaders on the donkeys. The vice mayor is quoted in the paper as saying “What I don’t understand is why he is upset with us”. The city council of Hopewell is going to be saying the same thing about citizens and businesses that get notifications about inoperable vehicles.

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