Redwood City to review use of red light cameras

August 23, 2010 8:19:35 PM PDT
There is an ongoing controversy about cameras used on the Peninsula to catch people who run red lights.

Tonight, the Redwood City Council will consider just how successful they are or whether they should be shut down.

The city's been issuing an average of 500 citations per month based on pictures from its red light cameras. Most of those are from rolling right turns -- what many call a "California stop." Many in the city call the cameras "right turn cameras."

"Well, in the interest of fairness of full disclosure, I have one of those tickets," says Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira.

Even Ira was nabbed by the red light camera for making a "California stop" on a right turn. In other words, he didn't make a full stop and he was fined about $450. San Mateo County Court CEO John Fitton says the mayor is one of many red light camera violators.

"The majority are for the non-full California stop right turns," says Fitton.

City officials say when the first camera was installed two years ago it was to catch drivers who blow through red lights, they never intended to catch the right-hand turn.

In fact, a police report indicates the two cameras at Veterans and Whipple have not had much of an impact.

"There hasn't been a significant decrease in accidents tied to the red lights," says City Councilman Ian Bain. "And if it's not improving traffic safety, I'd like to see it discontinued."

A recent San Mateo County grand jury report questions whether the cameras are more successful as cash cows for those Peninsula cities that operate them.

"They really should be about safety and not about money," says lawyer Bruce Simon.

Simon filed a class-action lawsuit last week against the two companies that installed red light cameras in the county. Simon says they're violating state law by including a so-called "cost neutral" provision in the contracts.

He says the camera makers reimburse cities when they can't make enough from tickets to pay for the monthly operational costs.

"It can't be a loser for them. The companies will make up the difference and they're picking intersections which are going to be susceptible to the most tickets," says Simon.

There have been court challenges to the cost natural clause. Several Peninsula cities have dropped it, others are in the process of dropping it, among them is Redwood City.


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