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July 12, 2011 > LA council split over fate of red-light cameras

LA council split over fate of red-light cameras

By Daisy Nguyen, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP), Jun 21 - The fate of the city's red-light traffic enforcement cameras remained uncertain on Tuesday after the City Council failed to get enough votes to turn them off.

The council voted 7-5 to allow a contract with the Arizona company that operates cameras at 32 city intersections to expire on July 31. Because the council lacked the majority eight votes needed to drop the program, aides said the issue could be revisited at any time before the contract expires if a council member decides to bring it up again.

The stalemate came after more than an hour of debate over the merits of the camera enforcement program.

Opponents said it was ineffective because a state law hinders the city's ability to collect fines and the city was losing money. Critics also said the lack of teeth made the cameras ineffective in enforcing traffic laws.

``Who's going to pay $500 in this hard economic time to the city of Los Angeles for a photo red light when in fact (the violation) doesn't go into your record, doesn't affect your insurance?'' Councilman Dennis Zine said. ``If you don't pay it, there's no consequence.''

City leaders expressed frustration over a state vehicle code that doesn't require local courts to place a hold on the driver's licenses of motorists who fail to pay their red-light camera tickets and prevent them from renewing their licenses until they do. The civilian commission that oversees the police department decided two weeks ago to drop the program after concluding that the courts' refusal to impose penalties on those drivers rendered it a voluntary payment program.

Police said nearly 40 percent of citations have gone unpaid.

Some council members, led by Tony Cardenas, sought time to find solutions to improving the ticket collection rate.

They proposed keeping American Traffic Solutions Inc., the Scottsdale, Ariz., company that operates the cameras, on a month-to-month contract for up to a year while the city works to change the state law. The company offered a ``cost neutral'' provision in the contract to ensure the city won't lose money in the meantime.

Opponents, though, raised concerns that extending the contract would conflict with the city's resolution banning doing business with Arizona companies because of that state's controversial immigration crackdown. They were also skeptical that state lawmakers would be willing to change the law.

In Los Angeles, the fine for running a red light is nearly $500 when city and county fees combined with traffic school and various penalty assessments, which are set by state lawmakers. The city only makes $157 per fine.

Last year, Zine and Councilman Eric Garcetti sought to reduce the cost of the red-light tickets by getting the city instead of the court to process the citations. State lawmakers quashed that idea by passing a bill that prohibits local governments from collecting and keeping traffic fines.

``The state, in their greed, made this not work for cities,'' Garcetti said.

``Until the state law changes the days of the $500 plus red-light ticket will come to an end July 31st, and that's a good thing,'' he added.

Cardenas said he believed there was still time to revive the program.

``We do have time for some clarity and hopefully we'll get that between now and July 31,'' Cardenas said. ``If we do get some clarity then I'll bring it up.''

The City Council did vote unanimously on one proposal. They agreed to look into adding more time for yellow lights as a way to improve safety at the city's most dangerous intersections.

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