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Red light cameras and safety: fyi Vista gets $150 on every $485 citation

"To me its always been about safety," said Mayor Judy Ritter.
"To me its always been about safety," said Mayor Judy Ritter.
Carla Miles

A five-year agreement between the City of Vista and Redflex Traffic Systems, due to expire next month, was extended tonight in a 4-1 city council vote, despite issues Council member Amanda Rigby voiced regarding the charts and data presented by staff.

Husam Hasenin, the Traffic Engineer for the City of Vista, stated in his remarks to the council that what was found over the years is that the program has been effective in reducing collisions at the five enforced intersections where the red-light cameras have been operating. Hasenin stated there is actually "a big reduction" from the high collisions in 2006 and citations were also down.

In 2004 there were 47 crashes in the 5 intersections, for example Hasenin said, but this decreased to just 22 in 2012.

Nevertheless, Rigby peppered staff with many comments and questions before finally casting the only vote against continuing with the agreement. From the graphs, she remarked that she could not tell what types of collisions happened or how they really occurred. "There's not really enough information," Rigby stated.

Among her observations was the fact that it costs the city of Vista about "$305,964 per year to run the red light camera program." In addition to that, Rigby stated, $400 per month also went to ATT.

Then she inquired as to how much money went to the city, county and state. The answer from Hasenin:

"The citation is about $485 dollars and about $150 dollars of that the city receives."

'$450,000 over time'

He added that there is a community service officer also engaged in the red light traffic ticketing and for the last fiscal year "...we were in the positive about 35,000 dollars."

To further explain, City Manager Patrick Johnson added that, when you look at it over time, "... it is $450,000 over time."

Council member Dave Cowles, in his remarks before voting thanked staff for "this comprehensive report. "

He also mentioned he gets comments from neighbors expressing frustration with the red light cameras, but "... they never say they did nothing wrong." He remembered "very vividly" the horrible accidents which occurred prior to having the cameras, and people "trying to beat the lights." Cowles wanted to underscore that this was a safety thing for him, and "not a revenue generating issue."

That seemed to be the situation for Deputy Mayor John Aguilera as well. He stated:

"I too think we should support this. The fact that we've cut our collisions down is a selling point to me. This is what it is all about - safety for city."

Aguilera added another thought. "We spend almost two-thirds of our budget on safety, and this falls into the same area."

Rigby, triggered by comments from Cowles, asked about the length of time given to the yellow light. Specifically, had there been any reduction in the timing for that light? The engineer stated that in 2004 the yellow light times were checked and "increased slightly at the time." At no time, Hasenin stated, did they shorten those.

"To me its always been about safety," said Mayor Judy Ritter in her brief remarks on the issue.

Escondido and Redflex

To the east of Vista, another north county city once also had an agreement with Redflex.

But the City of Escondido last year opted to cancel the contract. A SanDiegoReader story last year, written by Michael Mullenniex, stated:

"Since the camera systems were installed, accidents at ... seven intersections were reduced by about 30%. However, during the last five years, the city also improved safety at other intersections; left turn phases of lights were created, improved signal coordination achieved, retro-reflective backplates installed, etc. As a result, the accident rate reductions at Redflex red light intersections were not very different from accident rate reductions at other intersections city-wide."

A 10news story, however, also highlights the problem with accuracy in ticketing:

"If it had not been for a letter from his insurance company notifying him that his driver's license was suspended in January, Marcos Ramirez [a 26-year veteran of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department] still wouldn't know he had been paying the price for someone else's mistake."

Escondido police said Ramirez ran a red light at the photo-enforced intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Fig Street last April, according to the story. But the problem was "... the citation was meant for someone else named Marcos Ramirez."

Unethical?

There are also those who believe that the businesses selling the red light cameras are unethical if not unconstitutional. Richard Diamond, the editor of anti-red-light-camera website TheNewspaper.com, is quoted in a recent article from USAToday:

"Those businesses provide turnkey services that include functions such as 'writing talking points for the police for the city council meetings' and helping to decide 'which intersections have the most promising engineering deficiencies to exploit.'"

How traffic is enforced, according to a statement at SaferStreetsLA, is also important:

"Traffic rules account for most of the contact by average citizens with law enforcement and the courts. Enforcement of laws which are widely perceived as unreasonable and unfair generates disrespect and even contempt toward those who make and enforce those laws." - California Appellate Court, People vs. Goulet.

And according to the PaloAltoFreePress:

"It is a fundamentally unfair advantage to the government and private enterprises that earn a profit from the sale and service, of automated red light camera systems to use images from said systems to incriminate citizens of a crime while not providing equal adversarial analysis to counter the images provided by Reflex and the government. This unfair advantage is a violation of the 5th and 14th Amendments Due Process Clause and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause since the accused is not being provided with equal protection."

Right turn on red light

Opponents of the red light cameras also say many tickets are given for simply turning right on a red light, which they believe is not as dangerous as driving straight through an intersection on a red light. From a Lawyers.com article:

"They point out that reducing violations is as simple as extending yellow lights so drivers don’t advance into the intersection on yellow only to still be there when the light changes."

Traffic engineer Hasenin also said that about half of the citations were for right turns on a red light.