SOLANA BEACH — Red-light cameras got the green light for potentially eight more years after council members, with no discussion at the Sept. 12 meeting, awarded another contract to Redflex Traffic Systems for the program that last year brought approximately $315,000 to the city from tickets issued mostly to nonresidents.
Solana Beach pays about $86,000 annually for three cameras at two intersections on Lomas Santa Fe Drive: southbound Coast Highway 101 and north- and eastbound Solana Hills Drive.
According to the staff report, about 10 percent of drivers ticketed in those locations in the last 18 months live in Solana Beach.
Prior to the 4-1 vote, with Mayor Mike Nichols absent, council members Dave Zito and Jewel Edson asked for a future report on the efficacy of the program.
Zito said the request was prompted by emails from three opponents, none of whom are Solana Beach residents.
“The modified staff report included some information on the effectiveness of the cameras but we didn’t have anyone from the Sheriff’s Department present that could speak and respond to the points raised, so I felt it would be good to have the topic brought back to ensure that we’re all informed as to the effectiveness of the program,” he said.
“The number one concern I get from residents is about unsafe driving on our streets,” Zito added. “This was further emphasized by all of the residents and children that came last night to (the Sept. 12 meeting to) discuss the issues with walking to school this year.”
Whether the cameras have improved safety depends on which analysis is considered and how it’s interpreted. City and local and federal law enforcement officials say they are effective in reducing accidents.
According to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, from 2000 to the time the cameras were installed in 2004, there were 21 accidents at the Coast Highway intersection. Between 2012 and 2016 that number dropped 29 percent, to 15.
At the Solana Hills location during those same time periods, the numbers went from 18 to seven, representing a 61 percent decrease in reported accidents.
The report noted traffic volume during the past two years at both intersections has increased, so total reported traffic accidents as a percentage of total traffic volume since 2004 has likely decreased even more significantly since the cameras were installed.
Redflex data shows about 10,800 total alleged violations that resulted in approximately 8,700 citations issued at the three locations between 2013 and 2016. Of those, a little more than 900 — or less than 10 percent — were dismissed.
Jim Lissner, a red-light camera opponent since receiving a ticket in 2002, said only injury accidents should be included. Fender benders should be excluded, he said, because “reporting of them varies with the sheriff’s willingness to respond to a minor accident.”
He also said of the nearly 2,850 citations issued last year, 1,465 were for right-on-red turns.
In response, the city staff report notes another 1,191 right-on-red violations captured were rejected.
Jay Beeber, executive director of Safer Streets L.A., said that organization conducted a before-and-after analysis of collisions citywide and at the two photo-enforced intersections. Data was compiled from the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System.
According to that research, the rate of red-light related collisions at Highway 101 remained the same, rear-end collisions increased slightly after the cameras were installed, and the severity of collisions may have increased slightly.
At Solana Hills Drive, the change in the rate of red-light related collisions was not statistically significant, Beeber added. The northbound-enforced approach had no red-light related collisions before or after the cameras were installed, so it is unclear why this intersection approach was chosen for automated enforcement.
Safer Streets L.A., described as a public policy and research organization dedicated to adopting scientifically sound and sensible traffic and transportation practices, concluded the program, while likely well-intended, “has not achieved the intended results.”
“There is no clear evidence that the program has made any difference in the number of red light related collisions that have occurred at enforced locations or citywide,” Beeber wrote.
“Citywide, the rate of red light related collisions has remained unchanged before and after the cameras were installed,” he added. “Based on our analysis, the red light camera program appears to have had no positive effect on traffic safety in the city.”
The approved contract is for five years, with three one-year extensions possible after that. The monthly fee of $2,386 can increase once a year based on the consumer price index but not by more than 3 percent.
Solana Beach can cancel the agreement with no penalties with a 30-day notice. The contract was part of the consent calendar, which includes several items that are passed together with a single vote and no discussion unless removed by a member of the council or public.