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Riverside's red light traffic camera system to be shut down


Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Issue 28, Volume 18.
Paul J. Young
Special to the Valley News


RIVERSIDE - Riverside will become the second Riverside County city to end its red light traffic camera enforcement program following a 5-2 City Council vote tonight.

"This program isn't in place for safety; it's there to fatten pocketbooks," Riverside resident Karen Wright told the council before the vote.

"There are plenty of steps this city can take to make intersections safer and reduce accidents that would cost little to nothing."

Wright was among a dozen people who addressed the council during a roughly hourlong public hearing at City Hall.

Eight speakers expressed vehement opposition to the cameras, while only one spoke passionately in favor of keeping them -- retired Riverside County sheriff's Deputy Don Teagarden, who has worked for years as one of the city's red light camera analysts, or "operators," writing and issuing citations to alleged offenders.

"People oppose this program the same way they do cellphone laws, fireworks laws, speed laws," Teagarden said.

"Don't listen to the myths and media hype. This program has proven effective at reducing collisions and traffic violations."

Councilman Andy Melendrez, who represents Riverside's Eastside quarter, had consistently backed the program but switched sides tonight, saying the $505 tickets had gotten too high and were hurting "low-income residents."

Meantime, Councilman Chris Mac Arthur said he had received an avalanche of complaints about the red light cams.

"The will of the people takes precedence over the interests of the bureaucracy," Mac Arthur said. "It's time, once and for all, to terminate this program."

Councilman Mike Soubirous, a retired California Highway Patrol lieutenant, led the vote to "unplug" the photo enforcement system

"Most people see this as a revenue tool, not an educational tool or deterrent," Soubirous told City News Service

"The data doesn't support the argument that these cameras are preventing wrecks. Eighty-five percent of the people I'm hearing from -- even though they've never been ticketed -- hate these things. The cameras scare them, freak them out. They're uneasy about even going through a yellow light at intersections."

Councilman Mike Gardner stood by the system, holding to the belief that it "contributes to motor vehicle safety."

"The penalties are too high, yes," Gardner said. "But that's the fault of the Legislature. And the penalties would be that amount whether an officer was writing the ticket or it resulted from a camera-recorded violation."

The city utilizes retired police officers and sheriff's deputies to function as "operators" of the system, analyzing alleged violations recorded by still and video cameras.

Many times, the defendant in a red light camera case can receive a citation signed by one "operator" only to be confronted by another when it comes time for trial.

Defendants are not routinely given the opportunity to ask questions of the original citation signer or the part-time technicians who position the cameras and adjust their settings.

Such practices have led to appellate court challenges, and in at least two published cases in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the defendants were successful in getting their red light camera convictions overturned as violations of the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the accused the right to confront the "witnesses against him."

According to the Riverside Department of Public Works, between fiscal years 2006-07 and 2013-14, the red light camera system generated $16.69 million in revenue from fines. That money has been split between the city, the courts, the state and other entities. It also does not reflect expenditures for maintenance, camera leasing and personnel costs.

The program was supposed to remain "revenue neutral," generating only sufficient funds to pay for itself while functioning as a means to deter scofflaws, according to Department of Public Works Director Tom Boyd.

However, Boyd told the council tonight that by using various methods, including placing cameras at more strategically advantageous spots, the city had captured nearly $500,000 in unanticipated net gains over the last two years.

The city contracts with Australia-based Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. for its photo-enforcement system.

Soubirous and other residents complained that money was going out of the country that could be spent on better things locally or at least in-state.

At least one speaker cited reports of Redflex resorting to arguably corrupt practices to maintain its contracts with cities throughout the nation.

Soubirous said the bottom line for him was that the cameras offered no veritable deterrent effect.

"People who are texting while driving -- or worse, who are driving drunk -- aren't paying attention anyway," he said.

"They're going to run the red light, no matter how bad the consequences. But somebody ticketed for a slow rolling right turn? That doesn't justify having a camera at an intersection."

Voters in Murrieta approved an initiative in 2012 seeking to end that city's six-year-old red light traffic camera program. Supporters pointed to a surge in rear-end collisions at camera-enforced intersections and noted the unfriendly reputation the cameras gave the southwest Riverside County city.

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invalidated the ballot measure based on arguments that it encroached on the City Council's authority. However, less than six months later, the council voted to deactivate the system anyway.

Riverside's system, in place since 2006 and now consisting of 14 cameras, will be taken out of service permanently in 60 days.


Riverside's red light traffic camera system could be history

RIVERSIDE - The Riverside City Council could decide tonight to shut down the municipality's divisive red light traffic camera enforcement program.

A public hearing is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. for the council to consider whether to deactivate the system installed in 2006. Councilman Mike Soubirous told City News Service that the majority of residents are in favor of unplugging it.

"Most people see this as a revenue tool, not an educational tool or deterrent," Soubirous said.

"The data doesn't support the argument that these cameras are preventing wrecks. There are red light runners who complain about the cameras. But 85 percent of the people I'm hearing from -- even though they've never been ticketed -- hate these things. The cameras scare them, freak them out. They're uneasy about even going through a yellow light at intersections."

Soubirous said Riverside is suffering a negative image by keeping its system gong.

"It's too harsh on visitors," the retired California Highway Patrol lieutenant said. "Makes us look bad to outsiders."

Councilman Mike Gardner, who along with Councilman Steve Adams has been a strong supporter of the program, acknowledged that "most people don't like it" but said there's a lot of "misinformation" that turns off residents.

"A lot of folks are under the impression that the fines for a red light camera-recorded violation are higher than if a police officer was writing the ticket. That's not true," Gardner told City News Service.

"People also don't realize that 75 percent of the camera-activated violations are discarded," he said. "The cameras can be triggered by a number of things. But more than three-fourths of the violations turn out not to be worthy of a citation."

The city utilizes retired police officers and sheriff's deputies to function as "operators" of the system, analyzing alleged violations recorded by still and video cameras. Many times, the defendant in a red light camera case can receive a citation signed by one "operator" only to be confronted by another when it comes time for trial.

Defendants are not routinely given the opportunity to ask questions of the original citation signer or the part-time technicians who position the cameras and adjust their settings.

Such practices have led to appellate court challenges, and in at least two published cases in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the defendants were successful in getting their red light camera convictions overturned as violations of the U.S.

Constitution's Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the accused the right to confront the "witnesses against him."

At its peak, Riverside's red light traffic camera enforcement system relied on 30 cameras. Fourteen are now active, according to the Department of Public Works.

The agency said that between fiscal years 2006-07 and 2013-14, the system generated $16.69 million in revenue from fines. That amount, however, does not take into account operational expenditures -- the funds spent leasing the camera equipment, paying maintenance and personnel costs.

According to city officials, current operational costs total around $92,557 per month.

The city contracts with Australia-based Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. for its photo-enforcement system.

"That $500 ticket is going through six different levels before its value is totally gone," Soubirous said. "There's money going overseas that could stay right here and be spent on something better."

He said the "deterrent effect" so often advanced as an argument for the cameras doesn't wash.

"People who are texting while driving -- or worse, who are driving drunk -- aren't paying attention anyway," Soubirous said. "They're going to run the red light, no matter how bad the consequences. But somebody ticketed for a slow rolling right turn? That doesn't justify having a camera at an intersection.

"We have nearly two-dozen traffic officers in this city. But I have yet to hear from the police department whether any of them are actually out enforcing intersections," Soubirous said. "Let's get them back out there."

Gardner said he had no issues with drivers being fearful of camera- enforced intersections.

"People should be afraid of running red lights," the councilman said. "Since the camera enforcement program began, accidents at intersections have dropped significantly. I grant you that the system is not without faults. But I think there are more benefits than faults."

Between 2006 and 2011, the number of broadside collisions at intersections citywide dropped 46 percent, while over roughly the same period, the number of red light infractions at camera-enforced intersections fell 64 percent, according to statistics cited in a city staff report.

Voters in Murrieta approved an initiative in 2012 seeking to end that municipality's six-year-old red light traffic camera program. Supporters pointed to a surge in rear-end collisions at camera-enforced intersections and noted the unfriendly reputation the cameras gave the southwest Riverside County city.

A judge invalidated the ballot measure based on arguments that it encroached on the city council's authority. But less than six months later, the council voted to deactivate the system anyway.


 

1 comments

Comment Profile ImageStephen
Comment #1 | Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm
NOTE that the "judge" in the Murrieta case was OVERRULED on his earlier "opinion" to stop a vote that Ban RLC THERE!

http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/41/4159.asp
Quote: "The city has already postponed the ballot measure that was to be considered in June. The city council cited litigation filed by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to overturn the results of last November's election in Murrieta, where 57 percent favored shutting off the cameras. ATS succeeded in finding an activist judge, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia, willing to block the public from voting on the issue, but the Court of Appeal intervened, said Judge Ottolia was wrong and ordered the vote to proceed.

Despite being chastised by the appellate court, Judge Ottolia returned in April to declare the public's will invalid after the vote had taken place and Murrieta politicians received the message loud and clear. Because the anti-camera activists had their victory -- Murrieta's city council voted unanimously to take down the cameras in May -- they did not file an expensive second challenge to the ruling. ATS pushed for the Murrieta case in the hopes of securing a precedent that could be used against other cities. Riverside fell in line with the camera company's strategy."

Read more on the RLC SCAM!

www.motorists.org
www.banthecams.org
camerafraud on Facebook
www.highwayrobbery.net

Article Comments are contributed by our readers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Valley News staff. The name listed as the author for comments cannot be verified; Comment authors are not guaranteed to be who they claim they are.

 

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