Council hears report on red light cameras

Council hears report on red light cameras
After hearing a staff report on Wednesday night from those for and against the red light traffic cameras, City Council opts not to take any action on the matter. Photo by Jared Whitlock

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.

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  1. Go George says:

    Council should have acted to remove them. Accidents reduction has not been great and a ticket for $500 is highway robbery.
    This is not fishing from the dock, this is fishing with a giant drag net.

  2. SSLA says:

    “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.”

    One of the reasons the legislation failed to pass is because the League of California Cities actively lobbied to kill the legislation, just like it does any time there’s legislation proposed that would reign in red light camera abuses. It’s hypocritical for the cities to say that they can’t do anything about the fines because they’re set at the state level and then do everything in their power to defeat legislation that would lower the fine.

    But here’s one thing the city can do immediately and that’s stop ticketing for slow rolling right turns which almost never result in a collision. We studied this in Los Angeles and found that the chance that a rolling right turn might result in a collision was about 1 in 345,000. You have a greater chance of getting hit by lightning. At the eastbound approach to El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard, rolling right turns make up about 77% of the tickets. The rest are for left turn violations occurring a fraction of a second after the light turns red. There’s almost no straight through violations. The majority of the left turn violations could be eliminated by increasing the yellow time by a half second to a second. The yellow time for a left turn arrow is shorter than for the through traffic even though some drivers need more time because they are slowing down to make the turn which means it takes longer for them to reach the intersection. The time of the yellow on a left turn doesn’t account for this.

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    I also support George, and all those who were urging removal of the cameras. None of the public speakers were in favor of the cameras. I feel that the statistics given were for an AVERAGE up to nine years, for the Encinitas/Camino Real cameras, and for a couple of years less, for the Leucadia Blvd/El Camino Real cameras.

    Council has not shown the courage of any convictions. The CURRENT statistics show NO significant decrease in accidents because of red light cameras. A one or two accident difference is NOT significantly significant. There are MORE rear end collisions due to the cameras.

    Yes, the tickets for not coming to a complete stop, I would think, including at a signaled intersection, should be far less than running a red light, or perhaps, turning left on a red light. The most expensive ticket should be going straight through, when one wasn’t in the intersection when the light turned red.

    The yellow light durations were said to be “in line” with SANDAG requirements, but no actual NUMBERS were given for how long the left hand turn yellow light lasts, or the through way, yellow, either. It seems to us that the left hand turn signal was very short on Encinitas Blvd, turning left onto El Camino Real, when I’ve timed it. If they are “in line” with SANDAG recommendations, then why weren’t exact numbers provided? The deputy sheriff seemed to suggest that people would “always” complain and want longer yellows. But why won’t they share how many seconds are now allowed, and what SANDAGs recommendations are?

    The statistics were misleading, also, because there is so much more traffic, now. I feel the City should have given staff direction to do SOMETHING, at least reducing the cost of the tickets. When Council has to choose between what the public is asking, and what staff or contractors (Deputy Sheriffs are contractors) are saying, Council always goes AGAINST the public.

    Too bad, when so many of us had such high hopes for our “new council.” What a disappointment they’ve been, on so many levels. And no, we haven’t received red light camera tickets, but have a lot of compassion for those who have. Some have tried to fight the tickets; thinking they’re unfair. Very few are successful. One speaker said even when he did prove himself to be innocent, he still had to pay “court costs!”

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