January 6, 2004 > A Premature Law? How will it be Enforced?
A Premature Law? How will it be Enforced?
By Reshma Yunus and Susana Nuñez
In the December 9, 2003 issue of TCV, the first of a series of articles was printed, entitled "Anatomy of an Ordinance," covered the process by which Assembly Bill AB 1886 was passed. Our follow-up article in the December 23, 2003 issue, entitled "Ordinance 2500, Birth of a New City Law" reported on the process by which this law became an ordinance in the city of Fremont. This article, being our final article in the series, will cover the impact of this law on the city finances.
Finally, we report on the consequences that directly affect citizens and their checkbooks. In our last article, we reported on Ordinance 2500, which passed on June 24, 2003, resulting in the doubling of traffic violation fines. Our search for the financial impact of this law resulted in more questions than answers over just how well it is being implemented, due to officials' differing interpretations.
According to Fremont's Traffic Project Manager Agnes Nair, she received her direction from the Alameda County Public Works Department, which was coordinating the implementation of this law for various cities in Alameda County. She quoted a letter, dated March, which specifically stated that some of the signage and other implementation costs could be recovered from fines. We spoke with an engineer at the Alameda County Public Works Department, Mr. Obaid Khan, who reiterated that, "yes," the County had advised the cities that implementation costs could be reimbursed by revenues from the fines; however, he agreed to review our reading and interpretation of the law. We then received a call from Mr. Bob Preston, the engineer who was primarily responsible for coordination of this ordinance, who stated that he had just checked with the CHP and that the Tri-City Voice was correct: implementation costs could not be recovered from revenues.
Mr. Preston told us that he would be sending out communiquñs to the cities informing them of the correction. Mr. Preston went on to state that, due to the budget constraints, many cities would only be able to implement AB 1886 in stages. This factor would especially affect larger cities, such as Oakland, whose material and labor expenses could reach as high as $200,000. Mr. Preston also told the Tri-City Voice that the CHP, as mandated by the law, would be preparing a report to the legislature. That particular issue is discussed in the second paragraph of AB 1886; it only indicates that "the bill would also require the California Highway Patrol to report to the Legislature on or before July 1, 2006, on the effectiveness of the pedestrian-bicycle safety programs and whether the added fines improved traffic and pedestrian safety within participating school zones." The bill does not cover reports required by the CHP to the Legislature that would pertain to any other issue, such as the effect on the city due to its expenses of implementation.
After offering his insight on the bill, Mr. Preston referred us to Mr. Doug Milligan, a staff member of the CHP, who confirmed that the CHP would be making the report. We inquired whether he felt that there were adequate financial controls to ensure that the revenues from the doubled fines would not be misspent. Mr. Milligan said that though there were ways that the enhanced portion could be earmarked, the actual monitoring would be up to the cities and the county. He commented further that, as noted about the aforementioned misinterpretation of the law, that perhaps AB 1886, although well intentioned, may not have been as well thought out with regards to implementation.
The good news to the city of Fremont is that per Ms. Nair, Fremont only spent $10,237 versus the $16k she had expected the city to spend. Due to the help from the Fremont Unified School District and existing internal resources, the city of Fremont was able to perform the labor and keep expenses to a minimum. However, we have yet to see if the $50,000 in expected revenues will be realized, as we were unable to reach the traffic court finance personnel to tell us how much has been received. Ms. Nair stated that she believed that there was going to be some lag in revenues, as fines are not collected immediately. Mr. Milligin and Mr. Preston commented, regarding the expected revenues, that there really was no basis for estimating an expected amount, and they were not sure how a city could arrive at a particular amount. Ms. Nair clarified to us that the estimated revenues were extrapolated from the historical revenues collected around school zones by the city.
To sum it all up, a law was being implemented incorrectly. City and county officials would have eventually discovered this error, but how long would this misinterpreted law have been enforced before this discovery was made? The law was well intentioned, as Mr. Doug Milligan stated, but clearly implementation of the law had not been well thought out. Simple errors such as this could cost, or may have already cost, residents' or city funds to take a route other than the intended.
Tri-City Voice plans to do a follow up article on what the city of Fremont actually collects on traffic violations and specifically on how ordinance 2500 is structured.