Los Angeles Fines May Be Reduced

Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2010

San Fernando Valley Councilman Dennis Zine would lower fines for red-light violations in L.A.

Councilman says drivers' fines will go down and city revenue will go up if the city processes its own tickets. The county and state are likely to fight the plan, which would decrease their revenue.  Tens of thousands of Los Angeles motorists could see reduced fines for red-light violations -- now hovering around $500 with traffic school fees -- under an unusual proposal presented Wednesday at City Hall.

San Fernando Valley Councilman Dennis Zine introduced a motion to study the feasibility of taking the processing of the city's red-light infractions, and possibly other traffic tickets, out of the hands of the county court system. Such a move could reduce the fines, some of which have risen at three times the rate of inflation in recent years, and increase revenue to the city, Zine said.

The tactic has been quietly adopted by a handful of California towns, but none the size of Los Angeles.

The proposal could trigger a fight with the cash-strapped state as well as judicial agencies, both of which could lose millions in revenue from Los Angeles' red-light tickets. Some have questioned the legality of such city-run adjudication programs.

Red-light ticket revenues have grown in recent years as dozens of California cities have turned to automated photo enforcement systems to monitor intersections around the clock. Los Angeles issues about 3,600 red-light violations per month, just with its camera systems; most have been for rolling right turns.

Los Angeles police officials report that the city netted more than $6 million last year from its photo enforcement program.

Zine, a former Los Angeles traffic officer, has been critical of the jump in red-light fines, which are set by state and county agencies.

The fines have become punitive, he argues, particularly for families struggling in the economic downturn. He noted that the city receives only about one-third -- less than $150 -- of the total fine levied for the red-light tickets its officer's issue, while on patrol or via camera systems.

Courts might benefit from his proposal because they are overloaded and reducing days of operation, Zine said in an interview. A Los Angeles County Superior Court spokesperson was not available for comment.

Under the proposal, the city would conduct its own administrative hearings on the tickets. Drivers would still get points for violations reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles, he said. The proposal will be initially considered by the council's Public Safety and Budget committees.