Loma Linda Keeps Rolling Right Turn Cameras

Press-Enterprise - Monday, February 15, 2010

The City Council agreed last week to leave the cameras in place at four intersections on Redlands Boulevard and Barton Road after learning that the number of traffic citations has dramatically dropped and that it would cost the city more than $534,000 to cancel its contract with the camera operator 10 months early.

Four months after Redflex Traffic Systems installed the cameras in 2006, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department reported that it was writing 1,200 tickets a month. Last month, City Attorney Richard Holdaway said the cameras captured 451 potential violations and only 157 tickets were issued.

Of the violations spotted in January, Holdaway said, 130 potential citations were not written because the deputy reviewing the pictures made "a finding of safe right turn on red."

City Council members say they have been besieged with complaints from motorists forced to pay a fine of more than $450 for not making a complete stop before turning right at the intersections of Anderson Street and Mountain View Avenue with Barton Road and Redlands Boulevard.

Holdaway met in closed session with the council last week to advise council members on the legal ramifications of cancelling Redflex's contract before it expires in December.

Then, in public session, City Manager T. Jarb Thaipejr disclosed that the cost to the city would be $534,558.83 if the contract were terminated this month and would amount to $42,000 a month for the remaining term if the council pulls the plug later this year.

Councilmen Rhodes "Dusty" Rigsby and Ovidiu Popescu lobbied last month for either pulling the plug on the cameras or telling the Sheriff's Department not to enforce right-turn violations based on photos from the cameras. They said the $13.5 million in fines imposed since the cameras were installed has been draining the local economy and discouraging people from driving to and through the city of 22,000 residents.

Holdaway said the state Vehicle Code precludes the city from ordering deputies not to write citations.

"Ultimately," he said, "the Sheriff's Department has the sole discretion as to whether or not to issue a citation. We need to respect that discretion that the law enforcement officer has.

"As a result of this discussion, the Sheriff's Department is exercising that discretion ... and they're looking at some of the safety issues, whether or not a particular situation rises to a significant safety violation," Holdaway said. "Right turn situations, the notorious California stop, are some of the situations that they're looking at."

Rigsby noted that the city's decision to increase the length of time that the lights are yellow by one second, at the expense of green lights, has reduced the number of left-turn violations from 240 month to 25 or 30.

He said the most egregious violations involve motorists who drive straight ahead through red lights and those incidents at the four intersections produced only five violations.

"That is tremendous improvement in safety from what we were seeing in the past," he said. "We could have had that safety with lengthening the yellow lights four years ago instead of installing red-light cameras.

Councilman Floyd Petersen, who has complained about the steep fines for right turns, said he was impressed with the decline in violations. He said it is "a very strong indication ... of increased safety at the intersections."

He also said that despite that decline, "I still very, very strongly feel that another issue needs to be addressed here. A $450 ticket for right-hand turn is ludicrous."

Mayor Stan Brauer acknowledged concerns about the message that ignoring violations would have.

"What do we tell our teen-age drivers? Well, you don't need to stop for red lights," he said.

Popescu said he is "very optimistic" after learning that the Sheriff's Department is writing fewer citations for right turns.

He said he still believes the city has a "viable option for us to get out of the contract early, given what I believe is an injury to the community."

He conceded, however, that the cost may be prohibitive.

"I think it is a little early" to make a final decision, he said, and vowed to bring up the issue again at the council's March 9 meeting.