Technicality leads to refunds for red light runners

February 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Red light runners who were caught on camera in South San Francisco will get a legal break over a big, big mistake, and it is going to cost the city a lot of trouble and money.

"It's a big mess," South San Francisco Police Chief Mike Massoni said, referring to the red light cameras on two of the city's busiest intersections -- El Camino and Westborough, and El Camino and Hickey.

Since they were put in Aug. 15, the cameras have nabbed thousands of red light runners. The cameras were installed by the American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and they are working without a hitch, except for one thing.

"We didn't go to a public meeting and have council formally ratify the contract between us and our vendor," Massoni said.

So just what does that mean?

"It has to be ratified before you implement the program, so anything from Aug. 15, when we started, to Jan. 27 is invalid," Massoni said.

This mistake by the City Council means returning perhaps more than a million dollars to red light violators who were caught on camera.

"I'm going to Disneyland," was the reaction of Russellino Barri whose mother got a ticket last fall. She fought it, but lost. "They still gave her a $500 ticket on that corner."

The city is now working with the county traffic court to identify violators like Barri's mother who will get refunds. But the city has to do more than that to make things right.

"We will be in contact with the courts and Department of Motor Vehicles to remove points from driving records. If persons went to traffic school, we will look at refunding their traffic school fees," Massoni said.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who is not a big fan of red light cameras, says this is a perfect example of why they ought to be the subject of a statewide review.

"One of the standards is to make sure that there is a signed contract before you start installing cameras at red lights," Hill said.

When the City Council realized its error, it quickly ratified the contract on Jan. 27. Any citation issued after that date is legitimate.

The mayor and city manager did not return calls to ABC7 for comment.

For information about obtaining a refund, call the red light ticket hotline at (650) 829-3777.

If you were one of those cited in South San Francisco between Aug. 15 and Jan. 27, Vic Lee would like to hear from you. Send him an e-mail at