City orders mechanic to register classic cars |

City orders mechanic to register classic cars

Susan Wood
John Runnels polishes a car on his lot Wednesday while discussing the future of his business at the "Y."

Eyesore or classic-car showcase?

John Runnels’ lot at the “Y” may turn into a hotbed of controversy embroiled in local politics and even legal action if the city continues with a demand the auto mechanic register his cars – one of them once belonging to Tahoe’s District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago.

That’s the latest from his South Shore attorney, Dale Sare – the man who challenged the city’s Tourism Promotion Business Improvement District that’s since dissolved.

By Friday, Sare plans to write a response to the South Lake Tahoe local government indicating Runnels Automotive has no intention of complying with the city’s order. He claims Runnels’ state auto license allows him to keep the vehicles without registration.

Further, if Runnels receives a criminal citation, Sare said he may file a legal complaint citing violation of constitutional rights and breach of contract on the improvements negotiated between the Runnels and the city.

The city’s police department demanded in a letter to Runnels a few weeks ago that under the city’s abandoned vehicle abatement code, he would either need to remove the cars or provide the appropriate documentation to keep them there by Sept. 6.

“Several of the vehicles were determined to have registration expired in excess of six months,” the letter signed by Community Service Officer Bob Albertazzi stated. Albertazzi has deferred all calls to City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo, who indicated the request for action against Runnels came from her City Council.

“They asked for a legal opinion whether abandoned vehicles code applied to (his use) permit,” said DiCamillo, who added she was unsure who initiated the action.

But Sare and Runnels have a theory.

“This is strictly Ted Long-driven,” Sare said, calling the police action a form of harassment. “And city councilmen are not immune from liability.”

During the county supervisor’s race, Long ran against Santiago, who Runnels campaigned for with a sign saying “Long was wrong” for the seat.

About that time, Long has made public statements about wanting to “clean up” the “Y” intersection business, and admitted to initiating the process with the police department and city attorney’s office.

“I have no ax to grind. I do have an issue if he’s getting away with something others aren’t,” Long said. “But I wouldn’t be disappointed if it got the lot cleaned up.”

But the look of the lot on the high profile corner means different things to different people.

Runnels pays as much as $35,000 for the old jalopies and fixes them up to resell. At any given time, there could be about 20 vehicles on display across from the Raley’s-anchored shopping center.

One of them – a 1955 Chrysler Imperial – has brought Santiago many memories. She and her ex-husband owned it, and he negotiated a deal with Runnels.

Santiago said she likes driving by Runnels’ lot because the old car she drove from Antioch to Oakland gives her a nostalgic feeling.

“That was a great necking car. We were going to ‘cherry it up,’ but we never got around to it,” she said.

The broken fuel gauge sometimes caused her to run out of gas, but the electronics still worked well. This included the car seats that laid back with a push of a button.

And Runnels contends “it runs so sweet.”

To Microsoft Corporate Vice President Debra Chrapaty, old cars also represent a piece of history. The part-time Meyers resident bought a fixed-up turquoise 1959 Studebaker truck from Runnels.

“It was love at first sight. I don’t agree with (the city threat). I wouldn’t own my truck if it wasn’t here to see,” she said Wednesday.

Runnels Automotive cars on display:

1968 Dodge Charger, 1971 AMC Javelin, 1964 Chevrolet Corvair, 1955 Chrysler Imperial, 1955 Buick Century, 1951 Studebaker Starlite Coupe, 1963 Volvo Jensen, 1975 Chevrolet Corvette, 1973 Triumph TR6, 1979 Triumph Spitfire, 1952 Hudson Hornet, 1954 Hudson Wasp, 1956 Volvo PV, 1946 Chevrolet Fleetline Aero Sedan, 1968 Mercedes Benz, 1961 Jaguar MK IX, 1978 Cadillac Seville, 1971 Porsche 914, 1966 Volvo Estate Wagon, 1946 Ford F-3 truck, 1969 Mustang Mach I, 1959 Triumph TR3, 1973 Plymouth Duster

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