(November 21, 2004) -- Big Brother hasn't been watching you at 16 "red light camera" LB intersections since August 2004.
However if the City Council agrees, it will begin watching you again at just over half the previous intersections.
A law authored by Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza (D., LB-Carson) stopped cities statewide from arrangements with "red light camera" vendors that had been based on the number of citations issued or revenue generated. LB city management wants the City Council to approve a new "flat fee" contract with LB's current red light cam vendor for fewer intersections...and has agendized the item for voted action at the November 23 Council meeting. LB's previous contract with the vendor expired in Aug. 04 and gave the vendor, LB City Hall and county and state agencies a cut from each citation.
A memo to Councilmembers from LBPD Chief Anthony Batts, approved by City Manager Jerry Miller, states in part, "Due to budget constraints...and because the City will now be paying a flat fee for each approach, the number of monitored approaches will be reduced from 16 to 10."
Assemblywoman Oropeza was LB Councilwoman Oropeza in 2000 when the Council voted (Baker dissenting) to install the digital devices. At that time, city staff said LB City Hall stood to receive over $1 million per year in revenue from the fines, collecting about 15% of the fine of roughly $300 (under state law, revenue from the fine is allocated between state, county and local government). Citations are reviewed by an LB police officer before they are issued.
Critics charged that the automated cameras were basically Big Brother style cash cows although city staff said then -- and continues to say now -- that the devices reduce accidents.
LB city staff's memo accompanying its latest request for Council action says "a four-year accident study, on the first 12 approaches that were part of the pilot program, revealed an overall reduction in accidents of 35.3 percent. This reduction is believed to be a result of the automated red light cameras and traffic engineering improvements provided at the intersections."
The memo doesn't attach the accident study or disclose the actual percentage reductions at specific intersections (only "overall") and doesn't specify the engineering improvements that it acknowledges may have played a role.
And it doesn't indicate how many "rear-end" type accidents, if any, might be attributable to some drivers slamming on their brakes in an effort to avoid a changing amber light at a "red light cam" intersection. In addition to the fine, drivers also get a negative DMV point which can trigger higher auto insurance rates.
In May 2004, LBReport.com reported that LBPD had seen about a 35% reduction in accidents at three red light cam intersections tracked to that time (a composite from Redondo/7th, Bellflower/Willow and Cherry/Artesia).
LBPD said that in 1998, the Bellflower/Willow intersection had LB's highest number of accidents...and data show that side impact collisions (which can result from running a red light) can be among the most deadly.
In 2004, the "red light cams" at Bellflower/Willow and LB Blvd/Anaheim were upgraded with higher tech cameras to produce higher resolution and progressive scan (oncoming vehicle) images to better identify vehicles (the upgrade cost was borne by the vendor pursuant to the city contract).
In 2003, Assemblywoman Oropeza authored AB 1022, a reform measure co-sponsored by the Auto Club of Southern California & the CA State Automobile Ass'n in Northern California, that said camera locations must be based on public safety reasons, not on likely revenues. Former Governor Gray Davis signed the measure into law.
"Traffic cameras are supposed to improve public safety by catching motorists who run red lights, not merely make money for vendors," Assemblymember Oropeza said in a release at the time, adding "This measure will help ensure traffic camera programs are not manipulated for profit." An Auto Club executive said at the time that when operated with proper government oversight and without profit motivated vendor fee arrangements, red light cameras can be an effective safety tool.
As for the new financial bottom in LB management's proposed 2004 contract:
"Based on the expected number of citations to be issued at the 10 approaches, the City expects to receive approximately $464,000 annually from this program. This will cover the annual payment to Nestor Traffic Systems of $240,000 ($2,000 per approach, per month for 10 approaches) as well as the approximate costs of $192,000 for the personnel to operate the program. The revenue and personnel are included in the FY 05 Police Department General Fund budget. The payment for Nestor Traffic Systems will come from existing Police Department General Fund appropriation as in previous years."
Oropeza's bill was the second to deal with "red light cams." Earlier, SB 667 required that "At each intersection at which there is an automated enforcement system in operation, the minimum yellow light change interval shall be established in accordance with the Traffic Manual of the Department of Transportation." In response, LBPD said the city extended the amber (yellow) light period at 7th/Redondo from 3.0 seconds to 3.3 seconds (on Redondo) and to 3.7 seconds (on 7th St.).