Red-light cameras still mired in debate

Red-light cameras at a major intersection in Redwood City were installed to increase traffic safety, but the San Mateo County grand jury questioned their use, suggesting the devices only serve to increase revenue for the city.

After conducting an investigation of camera effectiveness for a June report, the grand jury said the cameras located at the intersection of Whipple Avenue and Veterans Boulevard resulted in an average of 507 citations a month, bringing in potential revenue of $65,636 for the city.

In a response to the jury’s findings Tuesday, Redwood City police Chief Louis Cobarruviaz wrote that the city has had difficulty attaining its portion of the fines from San Mateo County and that some of the citations may be reduced by the traffic court if appealed.

The cameras not only record the running of red lights; they also track a motorist’s failure to stop before making a right turn. The fine for failure to stop is $446, an amount the grand jury said was out of proportion with similar offenses and is often appealed.

State Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, had a bill sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday that would reduce base fines for failure to stop from $450 to $219, which is currently the penalty amount if a driver doesn’t obey a stop sign.

The Redwood City City Council approved Cobarruviaz’s response to the grand jury during Monday’s meeting, but asked the Police Department to return in a month with accident data tied to red-light running during the past three years, City Councilman Ian Bain said.

Cobarruviaz acknowledged the jury’s finding that the cameras, which were installed in March 2008, have not significantly reduced the number of traffic accidents, but he could not provide exact figures.

The City Council will meet again in about a month to discuss the future of the red-light cameras, as the contract is set to expire at the end of the year.

“We want to make sure that if we are going to renew the contract, it’s worth renewing,” Bain said. “Our only interest is traffic safety.”

shaughey@sfexaminer.com

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