SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- If you've ever gone out in the Gaslamp, you know how busy it can get. Nothing will ruin your night more than finding out your car's been towed.
That's exactly what's happened more than 1,000 times since the city converted Fifth Avenue to a three-minute passenger loading zone after 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights in September 2016.
"They really don't ask questions around here," said Vanessa Figueroa, who hands out fliers for Gaslamp BBQ on the corner of 5th and Island every Friday and Saturday nights. "If you're parked here, your car's gone."
The city made the change to reduce gridlock, boost emergency response times, and make passenger drop-offs safer. But that's also meant a lot of towing. In the first year, the city towed about 1,200 cars - drivers either missing the warning signs or getting confused by different ones next to each other.
For example, last Friday, the tow-away parking signs warning of the loading zone were mixed with tow-away signs for Sunday only.
Local musician Devin Babcock watched helplessly as his Prius got towed away.
"I got all my gear in there," he said. "Thousands of dollars worth of stuff, and there's no exception that can be made."
The fine for violating the loading zone law is $52.50. But they also have to pay the towing company at least $178, plus potentially storage and mileage added onto that. Gaslamp Quarter Association head Michael Trimble says the organization is trying to balance safety while minimizing towing. He says the city already added bigger signs, which helped. Plus, while the two trucks can come anytime at 8 p.m. or after, Trimble says they are now generally coming closer to 9:30 p.m. to give the dinner crowd a chance to leave.
"This is an innovative program to help visitors and locals access the Gaslamp Quarter safely," he said. "We listen to our membership and the public that come down to Gaslamp and take all suggestions seriously."
Meanwhile, some Gaslamp businesses that cater to tourists are expressing concern about the towing giving San Diego a bad image.
"The show that the two trucks put on hasn't helped our guests trying to enjoy their dinner," said Corri Wilson, assistant GM of Union Kitchen and Tap, on Fifth Avenue.
Wilson says she and her staff warn customers about the towing rules on weekends.
Trimble says he is planning a meeting with city staff to go over how to improve the program as it goes into its second, and potentially final, year.