Lawsuit targets red-light camera contracts

Two motorists who got nailed by red-light cameras on the Peninsula are fighting back.

The residents of Daly City and Palo Alto have filed class-action lawsuits accusing red-light camera vendors of signing illegal contracts with several Peninsula cities and calling for the companies to reimburse those who were fined.

The plaintiffs — fined for running lights in Millbrae and Menlo Park — say Redflex Traffic Systems and American Traffic Solutions have made millions of dollars off fines from the citations, likely affecting thousands of people.

“Motorist safety is important to all of us,” said Reginald Terrell, an Oakland attorney who is representing Daly City resident Ernesto Floresca. “We just want to make sure that the rights of the motorist that is being cited are not being compromised because of economic interest for the city, municipality or vendor.”

Floresca filed his lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court on Nov. 19. A nearly identical lawsuit was filed in the county Aug. 19 by Palo Alto resident S.D. Jadeja, though it was moved to federal court in September.

The two men say the contracts had a “cost neutrality” clause that violates a 2003 law prohibiting enforcement system contracts from charging fees based on the number of citations.

<p>Redflex and ATS guaranteed at least 59 cities — including Menlo Park, Millbrae, Redwood City and San Mateo — that fine revenue would exceed the cities’ monthly fees to the vendors, according to the lawsuits. San Mateo, for example, pays roughly $6,000 monthly to Redflex.

If the fine revenue fell short, the companies would reimburse the cities or absorb the difference, which made them “financially incentivized to ensure that the cameras they install produce a sufficient number of infractions to cover their monthly fees,” the lawsuits claim.

The motorists seek damages for fines dating to 2004, though several cities including Millbrae, San Mateo and Redwood City have since deleted the “cost-neutral” provisions. The plaintiffs don’t seek any damages from the cities.

In 2009, San Mateo County issued 30,948 red-light tickets, which at $446 each would amount to $13.8 million in fines, according to the lawsuit. Cities get a share of each fine.

Asked about the lawsuits, ATS spokeswoman Kate Coulson said in an e-mail that the company is “confident that our contracts fully comply with California law.”

Redflex spokesman Shoba Vaitheeswaran said in an e-mail that the California Supreme Court recently upheld a lower court ruling against lawsuits that sought to limit cost-neutral pricing.

“We’re confident that the [two] suits are without merit and that road safety camera programs offered in [California] will continue to provide public safety benefits in support of local traffic enforcement,” Vaitheeswaran said.

Seeing red

Average monthly red light citations, for November 2009 through March 2010:

Daly City: 660
Menlo Park: 630
Millbrae: 343
Redwood City: 507
San Carlos: 53
San Mateo: 587

Source: San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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