More refunds in store for red light runners

March 15, 2010 6:41:44 PM PDT
Even more refunds are in store for drivers who were captured on South San Francisco's red light cameras.

City officials will ask San Mateo County Superior Court for permission to give refunds to drivers who were ticketed between Jan. 28 and March 10 at the two intersections where the city has installed the cameras.

The city has already sent out letters to some 6,000 motorists who were caught by the cameras between Aug. 15 and Jan. 27, saying those who paid their tickets will also get refunds. The root of the problem is that the City Council somehow forgot to ratify the contract with the camera manufacturer which began operating the camera in August.

According to state law, that mistake made the whole operation illegal thus the refunds. City officials maintained that all citations issued after that date were legal. But now they say they want to give more ticketed drivers a break because of the high profile controversy surrounding these cameras, and that is why they say they will go to court to file a motion to dismiss even more citations.

The city also decided last week that as of March 11, it will issue warning notices and not citations to drivers caught by the cameras at least until April 14. That is when the City Council will hold a public hearing on whether to continue operating the red light cameras.

"Unless I get something in writing that my ticket's dismissed, I'm going to be there ready to go to trial," said lawyer Ellen Mendelson who may have had a lot to do with the city extending its grace period for citations.

Mendelson got nabbed on Jan. 31, three days after the city corrected its error and ratified the contract, so she did not qualify for the initial refunds. She put the city on notice, saying she is going to trial, telling them just how the city's cameras are operating illegally.

"They have to start from the beginning on this thing," she said. "The whole thing was done wrong.

The city attorney's office told ABC7 it has no idea how much money all this is costing South San Francisco's city government, but prior estimates by the mayor amount to more than $1 million just to identify and process all the refunds. ABC7 has also learned that the processing is costing the San Mateo County Superior Court hundreds of thousands of dollars for staff time.

A reliable source tells ABC7 the city did not want to go to trial because the legal proceedings could drag on and on, in the meantime the status of the cameras would still be in limbo.

We will know next month if South San Francisco decides to renew its cameras, or take them down.


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