Applause echoed through Belmont's City Council chambers after Councilman Dave Warden's impassioned speech slamming the city's red-light camera contract with Redflex Traffic Systems — a rare sound during council meetings.
“I get some damn thing in the mail two months later that I don't even remember,” Warden said. “Who am I mad at now? I'm mad at the city, I'm not mad at myself. There's no cause and effect.”
After hearing from other City Council members, several residents and city officials, the council ultimately voted 3-1 to terminate the camera contract. But Warden's criticisms highlight the ongoing controversy over similar programs throughout the county.
“There are many detractors,” said Cmdr. Dave Bertini of the Menlo Park Police Department. “Mostly, they are people who have gotten tickets.”
Warden said at the Belmont council meeting that he had been a recipient of a ticket in Newark.
On the same date Belmont voted, Menlo Park's City Council unanimously chose to extend its Redflex contract by 60 days. The 60 days will allow the police to further analyze the system's effectiveness, according to city documents.
Sgt. Sharon Kaufman of the Menlo Park police said there has been a noticeable reduction in collisions at intersections with cameras.
“We've experienced horrendous crashes before the cameras went in,” Kaufman said. “Even though we've had a couple since, they're severely reduced.”
There are many misconceptions about how the cameras actually work, Bertini said. One of the most common is that people think the camera goes off and a computer issues the ticket.
“It actually goes through three levels of human review, including a police offer who gives final approval,” he said
Yet concerns about the cameras persist — especially the hefty fines.
“It seems the whole red-light camera issue is related to money,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who sponsored a failed bill aimed at curbing abuse and increasing safety several years ago.
At the Belmont council meeting, every member of the public who spoke urged the city to end the program. The majority of the council also did not recognize the camera's safety benefits.
“There is no clear evidence cameras improve public safety,” Belmont Mayor Christine Wozniak said, adding that the cameras come at a high cost to the citizens.
With Menlo Park set to vote on its red-light program in August, it remains to be seen if the city will renew the contract. Bertini remains confident that Menlo Park's collision statistics will speak for themselves, he said.
“We're looking at adding a fifth approach at Chilco Street and Bayshore,” Bertini said.
But at least for the time being, the Redflex program is over in Belmont. For many, like Warden, it's a welcome conclusion to a misguided chapter in the city's history.
“I hate those things,” Warden said.