Menlo Park renews red-light cameras

One of the state's least safe cities in terms of traffic safety — Menlo Park — has decided to continue its red-light camera program for an additional five years and add a new location.

The California Office of Traffic Safety ranked Menlo Park the eighth-most dangerous city among 93 others in California with populations between 25,000 and 50,000. The vast majority of these collisions are speed-related, according to agency data. Sgt. Sharon Kaufman said such speed is often a factor in collisions due to red-light violations.

Menlo Park's poor traffic-safety ranking is one of the reasons it installed the cameras, and now is extending and expanding the program.

“Menlo Park has a high collision rate, and we haven't operated a fully functional traffic team in going on four years now,” Kaufman said. Along with other methods of enforcement, the cameras are an important component in the department's traffic-safety program, she said.

The city currently has four cameras at three intersections, and it plans to add another at the intersection of the Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street.

The 4-1 vote in favor of the cameras came after a marathon discussion about the program that extended across two council sessions and included many impassioned pleas from the community to kill the program.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton was the sole dissenting vote on the council, indicating that her analysis of the traffic data revealed no demonstrable evidence the cameras are reducing collisions within the city.

“These cameras are not providing safety in Menlo Park,” Carlton said. “They're raising the number of accidents, and they're raising the severity of accidents.”

According to Menlo Park police, the total number of collisions in monitored areas dropped from 141 to 103 after the cameras went into service. Also, the severity of the crashes has been reduced, as the vast majority are rear-end collisions — which Kaufman said are generally less severe than T-bone collisions.

In 2012, the camera system nailed 3,898 red-light violators, 10 percent of whom live in Menlo Park. The program generated gross revenue of $361,879 during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, netting the city $66,877 after expenditures necessary to run the system.

Menlo Park receives $155.63 from each $480 red-light violation citation. Of the remainder, $103.77 goes to the county, and $220.60 goes to the state.

The newly approved contract obligates Redflex, the private firm operating the cameras, to delete all photo and video footage after 30 days if it is not being used in an ongoing investigation.

Mayor Pro Tem Ray Mueller insisted on the additional language in order to protect people's privacy.

Cmdr. Dave Bertini said police do use surveillance footage from the red-light cameras from time to time to solve crimes that are not red-light violations.

The agreement with Redflex will last five years with the option to extend or terminate the agreement should the City Council vote to do so.

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