ENCINITAS — Several speakers urged the City Council to take down the city’s red light cameras at Wednesday night’s meeting. Councilmembers, however, declined to take action after hearing a staff report on the cameras.
Resident Nina Williamson said she supports the cameras as a safety measure, but the financial burden of a ticket is too heavy.
“I do object to that kind of fine; it’s absolutely draconian,” Williamson said.
At a cost of $500 per citation, 24,000 red-light tickets have been issued during the program’s nine-year existence.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer asked whether the city has any leeway in negotiating the price of a ticket.
Rob Blough, Encinitas traffic engineer, said the state’s legislature sets the fine. State laws have been proposed to bring down the cost of a fine for those caught running a red light when turning right, but ultimately failed to pass.
According to city data, a camera monitoring the eastbound direction of Encinitas Boulevard captured the most red light runners that would turn right onto El Camino Real.
Councilman Tony Kranz inquired if it’s possible to remove the cameras tracking those hanging a right.
Blough said it’s viable, but would require a more in-depth review of tickets.
The cameras were put up in 2004 at El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard in hopes of discouraging red light runners and to curtail traffic collisions. About a year later, cameras were also installed at another dangerous intersection — where El Camino Real, Leucadia Boulevard and Olivenhain Road converge, Blough said.
In the absence of cameras, monitoring the El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard would require two Sheriff’s deputies, said Capt. Robert Haley. However, it’s dangerous for a deputy to track down a driver who runs a red light at the intersection given the amount of traffic there, he added.
“Even with your lights and sirens on, your chances of being hit at some point are pretty high,” Haley said.
Haley said that those who receive a red-light ticket are welcome to review it at the Encinitas Sheriff’s patrol station.
He added that he was given a ticket several years ago in Escondido. But he’s still in favor of the cameras since they’re proven to bring down the number of accidents, pointing to Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar as proof.
During the three years prior to the cameras going up in Encinitas, there were 26 total collisions at the Olivenhain Road, El Camino Real and Leucadia Boulevard intersection. Looking at 2010 to 2012, the number went down to 23.
Over the same time period at the Encinitas Boulevard intersection, the number fell from 25 to 10, according to city data.
At both of the intersections, in the three years prior to the camera installations, collisions that resulted from drivers running red lights totaled 12. And from 2010 to 2012, that number was eight.
George Hejduk, who has battled the cameras for years, said the cameras haven’t caused a significant drop in mid-intersection collisions — the most dangerous type of accident.
“The before and after numbers are negligible as to warrant little or no attention,” Hejduk said.
And he added there are no recorded rear-end collisions prior to the cameras at the intersections. But since they were installed, there have been a handful of them.
Alejandro Sanchez said the tickets are sometimes issued to the wrong person. But most residents don’t have the time to fight them.
Steven Schorr spoke in favor of the cameras, arguing they make the intersections safer. He said those against them “would be better served by driving better.”
Encinitas contracts with Red Flex Inc. to operate and maintain the cameras. If the city were going to cancel the contract, it would have to send out a 60-day notice to Red Flex.
This past December, the most recent data available, the cameras cost the city about $11,000 and generated about $16,000 in revenue.
City Council provided no direction after the public speakers and staff report.