Could red light cameras be given the red light?

Could red light cameras be given the red light?
A decrease in revenue from red light cameras in Del Mar is causing city officials to wonder over its cost benefit to the city. File photo

DEL MAR — Red-light cameras will be scrutinized after a major decrease in revenue from the devices was revealed at the June 16 meeting.

Council members were also reminded a deputy was spending time reviewing violations rather than addressing more serious crimes.

For about the last 10 years the city has contracted with The Redflex Group for three cameras on Camino del Mar — one at Del Mar Heights Road and two at Via de la Valle — and currently pays $1,577.51 per camera per month, or nearly $56,800 annually.

City officials say the cameras were not intended to be a revenue source and for the most part have always been at a break-even point.

They were installed to increase safety at major intersections. Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said sheriff’s captains have indicated the cameras reduced collisions.

In fiscal year 2012-2013, the city took in $93,901 from the cameras. Of that, $73,037, or 78 percent of what was budgeted, was reported as of March 31, 2013.

For the current fiscal year, $109,240 was budgeted, but as of March 31 only $33,768, or 31 percent of what was budgeted, was taken in.

City Manager Scott Huth said the cameras present two sets of expenses for the city — the operation cost that is paid to Redflex and money spent to review footage and issue tickets.

“Right now we are not generating revenue to cover the Redflex part, and we’re certainly not — and nor have we, I believe ever — generated the revenue to cover the complete cost of enforcement, what it costs us to go to court and have a detective allocated to that,” Huth said.

According to the staff report, the revenue decrease “reflects the change in standards of enforcement.”

“The standards for the ability to positively identify the driver have increased,” Delin explained in an email. “There have been increased requirements for camera resolution, and clarity of the driver’s face in the picture.

“If the resolution standards have changed, and the cameras do not comply … Redflex will need to fix this,” he added. In fact, Delin said, the company is replacing one of the cameras.

“That was the single item in the budget that caught my attention, that we’re losing money on this program and we’re also paying a detective to review the evidence supporting the citation,” Councilman Don Mosier said.

“I think we need to take a look at either a better way to administer this program or try to evaluate the public safety benefits of the program to determine whether it’s worth continuing to lose money,” he added.

“So we would need to evaluate what the enforcement options are if we didn’t have Redflex cameras,” Mosier said. “I would hope that we get more information to help us evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of losing money versus the public safety impact of these red-light cameras.”

Mayor Lee Haydu agreed and asked that the item be brought back for a full council discussion. She said she would like information on why other cities, such as Poway, have eliminated the red-light camera program.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s captain said she is working to have the park ranger review the images rather than a detective.

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