Senate Bill Would Stop Cities From Using Tickets To Generate Revenue

By Steven Tavares

Palo Alto Sen. Joe Simitian thinks red light cameras are the technological equivalent of small town speed traps. His bill offered last month in the State Senate would bar local jurisdictions from approving the installation of traffic cameras on the basis of its ability to generate revenue.

San Leandro’s City Council is set to discuss Monday night extending its five-year contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to 2018. The proposed deal will cost the city over $2 million over the period of the contract, a monthly fee of $5,200 for cameras on five approaches around the city. The new agreement would eliminate a sixth camera at the intersection of Lewelling Boulevard and Washing Avenue. Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli explained the intersection had experienced a drop in traffic violations, but did not generate enough revenue to justify its use.

Simitian’s bill hopes to scrub the argument of the profitability of traffic cameras from local cities’ decision-making process. The text of the legislation says, “The bill would prohibit a governmental agency that proposes to install or operate an automated traffic enforcement system from considering revenue generation, beyond recovering its actual costs of operating the system, as a factor when considering whether or not to install or operate a system within its local jurisdiction.”

Traffic collisions have fallen by 30 percent, from 136 accidents to 93, over the past four years in relation to the previous four years before the introduction of red light cameras in San Leandro, according to the police department.

The bill though is critical of cities using traffic ticket revenue to solve its budget woes. According to a recent report, the busy intersection at Marina Boulevard and Teagarden Avenue is one of top revenue-generating cameras in the entire Bay Area. The other cameras are located at East 14th Street and Fairmont Avenue; East 14th and Davis Street and two at Halcyon/Floresta and Washington.

According to a study detailed last Friday in the Sacramento Bee, the number of tickets given by the California Highway Patrol rose by 200,000 in 2009, as opposed to two years earlier. Sacramento’s Superior Court also dealt with 16 percent more traffic violations last year than in 2006. The average ticket is $250, according to the CHP.

SB 29 would allow for more clearing identification of intersections containing red light cameras and require stricter rules on the approval of tickets based on filmed violations. The bill, though, may face a tough road in the Legislature. A similar bill proposed by Simitian last year stalled in committee.

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