The Coast News Group
Disappointed by safety data presented at a recent meeting, council members may consider eliminating red-light cameras such as these at Via de la Valle and Camino del Mar, but not before June 2016, when the current contract expires. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Disappointed by safety data presented at a recent meeting, council members may consider eliminating red-light cameras such as these at Via de la Valle and Camino del Mar, but not before June 2016, when the current contract expires. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

City Council disappointed in red-light camera data

Most tickets issued as a result of the cameras  went to people who live outside Del Mar’s ZIP code

DEL MAR — Concerned the city is losing money and not getting the safety benefits from red-light cameras, council members directed staff at the Sept. 15 meeting to bring back additional data so they can determine whether they should renew the contract with the company that provides the traffic-enforcement devices.

Following a report citing an increase in the number of drivers running red lights in the city, three cameras were authorized in October 2003 for installation at two locations on Camino del Mar  — the north- and southbound lanes at Via de la Valle and the northbound lane at Del Mar Heights Road — at an estimated cost of $36,000.

The original contract allowed Redflex Traffic Systems to receive a per-ticket payment, but state law prohibited such compensation in 2009. The city now pays about $56,000 a year to the company.

Money from tickets generally exceeded the cost of the cameras, but did not cover the approximately $65,000 spent to pay a sheriff’s detective to review the citations and appear in court if a violator chose to fight the ticket.

That brings the total cost to the city for the system to about $122,000 a year. In fiscal year 2012-2013, the city took in $93,901 from the cameras. This past fiscal year that amount didn’t even reach $50,000.

City officials say the cameras were not intended to be a revenue source, but rather a means to increase safety at intersections.

Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said sheriff’s captains “strongly believe … that the red light cameras are effective” at reducing collisions, but council members are not convinced the data supports that conclusion.

“There’s no direct evidence that the cameras reduced serious accidents at the intersections where they’re installed,” Councilman Don Mosier said, noting there were very few incidents at the two intersections.

Although additional data shows a decrease in collisions citywide, Mosier said that could be the result of a reduction in younger drivers, safer cars and more people taking public transit and riding bikes.

“I can draw no conclusions from those data that you presented that say the cameras are increasing public safety,” Mosier said to Delin.

Council members asked staff to look into the cameras after a major decrease in revenue from the devices was revealed in a June meeting.

The drop in revenue can be attributed to several factors, Delin said. Motorists know where the cameras are and drive more carefully. As a result the city may relocate the camera that monitors northbound Camino del Mar at Via de la Valle because few violations have been captured at that intersection.

Delin said more rigorous court standards for driver identification may also have contributed to lower revenue. Del Mar’s cameras have all been replaced with higher-resolution devices.

The courts now require the city attorney rather than the deputy district attorney to issue a subpoena. According to the staff report, this is expected to streamline the process and decrease rejections by the court.

This process was used for the first time Sept. 4 and all citations were approved, the staff report states.

The economic downturn also allows violators to pay tickets in installments, which slows payments to the city, and there has been in increase in unpaid tickets going to collections, which is something the city has no control over.

For cost savings, Delin said the city is looking into using a community service officer rather than a detective to review the tickets.

Councilman Al Corti said he would like to see collision statistics from before the cameras were installed as well as after. He said he’d also like staff to look into other steps that can be taken to increase safety, such as lengthening the timing of yellow lights.

Several San Diego cities have in recent years stopped using red-light cameras. A Redflex representative said that when Poway eliminated the system, the company continued capturing images for six months after the contract was terminated.

He said there was an increase in collisions.

Del Mar’s 7-year contract with Redflex expires in June 2016, giving staff time to come back with “more robust data,” the city manager said, that will allow council to make a decision about extending the agreement.

“I’m disappointed in the lack of data,” Mosier said. “I just have a hard time assessing what the safety benefit is, if any. It’s clear that this is an argument that has two sides. Are you getting the safety benefit and how much are you paying for that?

“If we have this program that’s been going on since 2004 and we’re losing money even half the time, and we’re not getting the safety benefit, then I think I would be in favor of not renewing the program,” he added. “I have a hard time making a decision when we don’t really have meaningful safety data.”

Corti agreed. “I’m not in favor of extending the contract unless somebody can demonstrate that they (the cameras) are (making the intersections) safer,” he said.