Appearing before Encinitas City Council in opposition to red light cameras was a supreme effort in frustration. They benevolently listened but like an inquisition court you realized that their decision to continue the cameras was a foregone conclusion.
It is difficult to locate someone who hasn’t had a personal experience involving red light camera running citations or knows those who have. Let’s concentrate on Encinitas.
Statistics can be compiled to suit a particular agenda. Such appears to be the fact involving the Encinitas Red Light Camera Report dated May 12, 2010, as presented to City Council in an effort to continue red light camera contracts.
The premise prior to initiation was that they would significantly reduce mid-intersection collisions. A review of this fact was to be presented in a timely manner.
Only through prodding during a number of years did the council somewhat reluctantly agree to the promised documentation
The presentation indicated an average yearly collision reduction of 2.6 and 2.5 at the two camera intersections. This doesn’t appear very convincing. At the same time a 70 percent decrease in the number of red light running accidents was reported.
Wishing to verify the legitimacy of city traffic engineering department figures, I first visited the Community Service Officers in charge of red light camera ticket administration at the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department. For whatever reason all inquiries were “stonewalled” and referred to the city report which I then went and obtained. However, I was informed that a camera citation currently costs $442 in Encinitas. At the report meeting the traffic engineer stated that he didn’t know the ticket cost.
Using yearly report numbers prior to and after camera installation the following was disclosed:
At El Camino Real/Encinitas Boulevard during the 4.5 years documented prior to red light cameras, collisions totaled 39. Of these nine, or 23 percent, were for red light running. During the 5.75 years after installation, accidents totaled 35. Of these, six, or 17.1 percent, were red light running related. Therefore total percentage reduction is 5.9 percent.
At El Camino Real/Olivenhain Road during the 5.9 years prior to red light cameras, collisions totaled 54. Of these 11, or 20.4 percent, were for red light running. During the 4.3 years after installation, collisions totaled 29. Of these four, or 13.8 percent, were red light running related. Therefore total percentage reduction is 6.6 percent.
These facts are a far cry from the 70 percent red light running reduction we are led to believe in the city report as numbers were evidently juggled in its favor.
A more shocking portion of the documentation exhibits the amount of ticket revenue generated.
Let’s review the latest six-month period shown October 2009 through March 2010. The two camera intersections produced 1,381 citations. At $442 for each ticket that computes to $610,402. Of this total Encinitas received $142,355, which averages $103 a violation, or 23.3 percent. Reflex, the red light camera company, got a set fee of $105,372, or 17.3 percent of this total. The Community Service Office got $16,254, or 2.3 percent. The remaining $20,739, or 3.4 percent, went to the city coffers.
The unanswered question is to whom did the remaining $468,047 or 76.7 percent go? It appears that the county, state and court system are the dominant beneficiaries.
In addition, if a court date is set for a ticket challenge the price goes to $495. Slap on another $25 if a payment plan is requested. Compute $80 for online traffic school as well as $75 for previous tickets and the $442 violation approaches $675. You talk about a “cash cow.” This is akin to immoral extortion.
Just as taxes are almost never reduced once increased, such is the red light camera scam comparison. This is absolutely so as the state sees a windfall. It is an ever-expanding piggy bank for all involved.
Unlike the Berlin Wall, which was eventually torn down, don’t expect red light cameras in Encinitas to be eliminated as our government seeks to extract every possible dollar from us. The illusion the camera introduction tremendously reduced mid-intersection collisions does not compute if the report is seriously explored.
I’m sure that Councilman Bonds’ statement that he no longer receives red light calls or Deputy Mayor Houlihan saying they don’t set ticket costs is of little comfort to those who have received exorbitant citations.
All my facts come from the Red Light Camera Report and can be verified.
George D. Hejduk is a resident of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.