Judge Denies CAA Injunction on San Francisco Alarm Ordinance

SAN FRANCISCO – A judge denied on Sept. 16 an injunction sought by the California Alarm Association (CAA) on San Francisco’s revised alarm ordinance. The group has criticized the ordinance for mandating alarm monitoring companies to collect licensing fees from alarm system users.

Superior Court Judge James Warren denied all of the motions presented by lawyers for the CSA and individual alarm system owner John Schwenger. Under the revised ordinance, which was passed by an 11-0 vote of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Feb. 18, alarm monitoring companies will not only have to collect the fees but will also be held financially accountable for any uncollected fees and could be criminally prosecuted. CAA President Patty Hartman says the ordinance forces them to do the city’s work for them. “We are becoming tax collectors for the city of San Francisco,” Hartman says. “They need quick revenue and they need it right away.”

Wayne Snodgrass, deputy city attorney for San Francisco, says the move is not so much an attempt to make revenue as it is an attempt to recoup losses incurred from false alarms. The city’s police department says of the 55,202 alarm-related calls they responded to in 2002, 90 percent were false alarms. “We’re fiscally in a very tight place. When we find ourselves in that situation, the city takes a long look at how to recoup revenues that we lost,” Snodgrass says of San Francisco’s $350 million shortfall. “Police are forced to spend time and money, and there are things people need the police to do besides responding to false alarms.”

As for the alarm companies collecting the fees, Snodgrass says the city isn’t anything abnormal about the move. “They made it clear they don’t like being place in this role, but the fact is it is not an unusual role.” Snodgrass said. “There are a lot of instances where a business is legally required to assist the city with collecting fees. Local phone service providers are required to collect 911 emergency response fees. That shows up on the phone bill.”

Hartman says that while the CAA is appealing the decision, they plan on working with the city in the interim and will comply with the ordinance. “What we’re going to do is try to work a mutually agreed process in the interim so that everybody can be in compliance,” Hartman says.

Hartman says the CAA and the alarm industry have made efforts to deal with the false alarm problem but are still getting most of the blame for it. “We have bent over backwards for the city,” says Hartman.

Snodgrass says no matter what past moves the CAA and alarm companies have made, it wasn’t enough to avoid the need to amend the ordinance. “Not all alarm companies have a problem with this. The California Alarm Association for its own reasons is attacking it.”

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