Second red light cam snafu could mean more refunds

February 22, 2010 7:13:54 PM PST
There may be another bureaucratic snafu at South San Francisco City Hall which, if true, ccould mean even more refunds for drivers captured on the city's red light cameras.

The city already has to give money back to those cited by the cameras at two of its busiest intersections because the City Council failed to properly ratify its contract with the camera manufacturer American Traffic Solutions when it put the cameras up in August.

The city finally recognized its error in December and ratified the contract in a public meeting as required by state ordinance on Jan. 27. However, all citations issued because of the red light cameras between August 15, the day the cameras began operating, and Jan. 27 will have to be refunded.

The CEO of the San Mateo County Superior Court figures about 7,000 tickets were issued in that six months period and perhaps 3,000 drivers actually paid their fines, which in a typical case would be about $400 to $500.

Attorney Ellen Mendelson got nabbed by South San Francisco's red light cameras, making a right turn on El Camino Real and Hickey Boulevard on Jan. 31.

Mendelson says she will fight the citation because the lawyer claims the city should have only issued a warning and not a ticket. State law requires cities operating red light cameras to issue warnings 30 days before actual operation begins.

Mendelson says that warning period would have been from Jan. 27, the day the City Council ratified the contract finally making the cameras legal, to Feb. 25.

"Therefore my ticket was invalid," Mendelson says, "The statute is clear. The city 'shall' issue warning notices, not 'may.'"

Mayor Mark Addiego told ABC7 News the City Attorney maintains the city did issue only warnings in July prior to the start of the cameras so he believes South San Francisco complied with state law.

"But if she wants to take it before a judge and he determines otherwise, then oh my, there would be more refunds," Addiego said.

Mendelson however, counters by saying, the law is implicit, that the 30 day warning period starts when the cameras are properly and legally operated and that, she says means the operations started Jan. 27, not August 15.

The lawyer will have a chance to air her complaint when she challenges her ticket next month in traffic court.