DEL MAR — Council members may pull the plug on red-light cameras in the city.
At the May 16 meeting they did not approve a one-year contract extension with the Redflex Group, opting instead to wait until the Finance Committee could review the program.
Councilmen Don Mosier and Al Corti said they would not support a renewal. Mayor Sherryl Parks and Councilmen Terry Sinnott and Dwight Worden said they would make a final decision following the review.
Three cameras have been active since June 2004 at two intersections along Camino del Mar — at Del Mar Heights Road and Via de la Valle.
The contract was renewed for seven years in June 2009 with three optional one-year extensions. Council members were considering the first one-year option.
The original contract allowed Redflex to receive a per-ticket payment, but state law prohibited such compensation in 2009. The city now pays about $56,800 a year to the company.
Money from tickets has generally exceeded the cost of the cameras, but not every year.
A sheriff’s detective was reviewing the camera footage but staff learned the reviews were inconsistent and tickets were expiring.
The city was told by the Sheriff’s Department that the detective “was fully allocated with crimes in Del Mar, and did not have the time available” to review the red-light camera tickets,” the staff report states.
Beginning in February a retired deputy was hired to review the tickets on a part-time basis at a cost of $3,250 per month. Since then revenues have increased.
With revenues estimated at $140,000 and costs set at $56,790 for the camera rental and $39,000 for a deputy to review the footage, a net gain of $44,210 is expected this year.
But the program was not intended to be a money source.
The original installation was based on projected safety benefits and concerns about red-light violations.
They are also less expensive than traffic officers.
There were 4,295 violations captured in 2014. Last year that number increased to 5,224. But not all violations result in tickets, and based on Sheriff’s Department data there has been no significant increase or decrease in traffic accidents.
“I don’t think they have a major public safety benefit,” Mosier said. “I’m opposed to spending more money on a program that I think has relatively small public safety benefit.”
“I think this should have come to the Finance Committee first for vetting,” said resident Jim Benedict, who asked council members not to renew the contract. “I don’t think it makes any sense because I don’t think we’ve uncovered all the soft costs.”
Resident Bill Michalsky disagreed.
“It’s really not about income,” he said. “It’s really about having policing at those intersections where there’s not ever going to be an officer sitting there 24/7. So this … modifies behavior in some people.”
Michalsky suggested finding a less expensive way to review the tickets but told council he supported the contract renewal.
“We’ve made money and if we cover our overhead I think that’s a good thing,” he said.” I think it’s a tool that works.”
“I don’t think we’re in it because of the money,” Corti said. “I think we’re in it for the public safety. What I haven’t seen is the stats that say it really is safer from a collision standpoint.”
He said extending the yellow light time by a split second and improving signage could more effectively improve safety.
“I think it’s been a pilot program for four or five years and it hasn’t been all that successful,” he added.
After describing the cameras as “moderately beneficial and sort of unimpressive,” Worden supported the recommendation to have the Finance Committee vet the program.
The contract is set to expire June 22. A Redflex representative said the city could convert to a month-to-month lease until council makes a final decision.