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Long Beach lawmaker wants to keep L.A. and other cities from tapping traffic fines

Jenny-oropeza-lori-shepler In an emerging, high-stakes battle fueled by government budget woes, a Long Beach lawmaker is attempting to stop cities from launching what she calls “a raid” on state coffers by collecting and keeping traffic fines.

With some tickets now costing more than $500 — and the bulk of the money going to the state and the courts — a small but growing number of California municipalities have begun issuing traffic citations under their own laws, rather than the state vehicle code.

Some local officials see it as a winning tactic that allows them to reduce penalties for the public while boosting cash flows because their agencies keep all of the money.

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine this week called for the state’s largest city to pursue such a program for red light tickets and possibly other moving violations.

Tens of thousands of red light tickets are issued annually in Los Angeles via photo enforcement systems. Those fines could be cut in half, to $250 or less under his plan, Zine said. And the city, which is grappling with a $212-million budget shortfall, the prospect of layoffs and potentially significant service cuts, could collect millions in new revenue. The city would process tickets itself, outside of traditional traffic court, and net $50 to $100 more per citation.

But Democratic State Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) is moving to halt the practice before it spreads. Under a bill she introduced earlier this month, cities would be prohibited from setting up their own traffic ticket fine schedules and collection systems.

Allowing a patchwork of enforcement practices would be “confusing, unfair and robs the state of legitimate income,” said Oropeza, a member of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. “I view it as a raid on state resources that are for transportation.”

Issuing different kinds of tickets for the same violation, with different fines, is “moving toward a situation of chaos,” she said.

At least one Northern California town, Roseville, has been issuing traffic tickets under city codes for about a year. Officials told the Sacramento Bee that for certain violations, such as failing to obey traffic signs, police have the option of issuing city citations or state code violations. More serious speeding or red light violations are not issued under local codes.

The city fine is $100, or about one third the penalty for the same violation cited under state law. Also, tickets issued under the aegis of the city are not reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles — or indirectly the driver’s insurance company.

That’s a major problem, Oropeza said. Uniform enforcement of the state vehicle code and keeping track of all moving violations is critical to identifying unsafe drivers, she said.

Among cities issuing traffic tickets under their own laws are Long Beach, Riverbank near Modesto and a few in the East Bay area, according to a spokesperson for Oropeza.

The potential financial losses to the state and courts aren’t yet clear, said Philip Carrizosa, spokesman for the agency that oversees administration of the state judiciary, which normally processes traffic tickets.

Some penalties have increased sharply in recent years and the revenue stream is becoming increasingly attractive to elected officials struggling with huge budget deficits.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently estimated the state could raise $338 million if cameras were used to catch highway speeders.

From Los Angeles County, the state and courts are reaping tens of millions of dollars a year, just from red-light camera tickets, government records show.

Zine, a former Los Angeles Police Department traffic cop, said Los Angeles would report any moving violations to the state under his plan.

And cities should be able to set and collect traffic fines as they deem appropriate, he said, especially when they are providing the police and equipment to enforce laws and issue violations.

“We do all the work and they take the money. It’s absurd,” he said. And fines should reflect a community’s economic conditions, he added.

“Why should someone who’s receiving financial assistance pay these $500 tickets, when they can’t even pay the rent and put food on the table?”

Zine disputed the suggestion Los Angeles and other cities would be raiding the state treasury. For years, state officials have been grabbing local government funds to balance their budgets, he said. “The state has ripped off every dollar they can” from cities.

Next week, he said he will ask the Council to oppose Oropeza’s bill and begin trying to rally the state’s various city associations to fight her legislation.

-- Rich Connell

Photo: State Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) at a candidate forum in 2007. Credit: Lori Shepler, Los Angeles Times.

Comments () | Archives (18)

Cities are the ones who should enforce the traffic laws and collect the bulk of the income. Let the state worry about state issues and let the local entities take care of whats a local issue.

I'm all for Dennis Zine's plan. I've been a police officer for nearly three decades and as a patrolman, I really hated writing a citation to someone because I knew an honest driving error was going to cost hundreds of dollars with most of the money going to finance the state's bad spending habits. I wrote far fewer citations as a result.

Here is another fine example of why we should have a part time legislature. The lawmakers have too much time on their hands and come up with silly laws to justify their existance. How about they work 6 months yearly and pay for their own car and expenses which they can write of on their income taxes like the rest of us.

I agree with Roseville's position - give the citing officer the choice, and allow the city to keep the funds from "lesser" offences. And the "no reporting of points" is an appealing bonus.

The politicians have destroyed the quality of life in CA. Their sole concern is for the priviledged class of government workers and filling their bloated socialist pensions so they can all retire on backs of others. I have had too much of this tyranny and am leaving CA.

Personally, I think this simply shows the true and genuine existence of government.

Its not really about the public. Its about the $$. And how to keep it coming for public employee jobs and pensions.

Another fine example of Democrats gone wild! Sticking their noses into city funds to continue wasteful state spending. Tax and spend, Tax and spend is the only thing that Democrats can do right!

Whoever hikes fines into the stratosphere is ripping people off. That one bunch of rip-off artists should start picking on the other rippers is utter shamelessness.

All these so-called officials need to be sacked without parole.

So they all finally admit it. Traffic citations are nothing more than a revenue generating policy, with little or no consideration given to actual road safety. Just another tax, slipped into the mix without any voter approval.

I've had my share of tickets in the past, but I've gotten older and wiser as a driver and have managed to keep my money instead of handing it over in the form of court fees and insurance premiums. I suspect as the population gets older, there will be less speeding tickets and running red light tickets. The Man will find one way or another to nickel and dime us to assured poverty, but in the meantime, slow down if you want to keep these pickleheads hands out of your wallet.

Anybody actually "beaten" a ticket lately?

You still pay the fine up front, and I've yet to see the refund. I got a ticket a year ago August and beat the ticket in last March. Eleventh months later, I'm still waiting for my refund.

As far as I'm concerned, the State should be taken out of the ticketing business altogether.

If you can't afford to break the law then don't. If you can't afford a $500 speeding ticket or red light ticket, then slow down and obey the law. If you're on financial assistance, and get a ticket, then you shouldn't have been doing whatever it was that got you the ticket. Changing the law to suit people who don't want to obey it or pay when they break it is ludicruous. Bottom line: You break the law, you pay the price. Take responsibility for your actions and your mistakes. If you don't learn your lesson after the first ticket, then you deserve to get a second.

Had to laugh at the public officials comment, "We do all the work and they take all the money". It seems that the taxpayer is doing all the work and between sales, state, feds, social security, property, utility, fuel, payroll taxes, etc. the government is taking 50-60 percent of a persons earnings so I think I am doing all the work and your taking all of my money.

Blame Prop 13.

Government isn't free.

All politics is local.

Rather than work her tail off for her Long Beach constituents, she's working it off for the state.

Are you ever going to vote for her????????????????

Violating a state law (or municipal one) is a choice (the simple error not-with-standing). Choose to speed or ignore a traffic sign, pay the price. If it was a matter of costs, then there would be no tickets, because they do not cover the cost of the law enforcement and judicial systems. The fines are based upon a balance between the costs of the programs and simple reasonableness. Tickets are a necessity to insure that driver obey laws. No agency "makes" money on this, except for the many private sector "traffic schools". Roseville may be making a mockery of the State codes if they consistently opt for the lessor municipal fine. People will start taking greater chances figuring they will get a lesser fine. State codes (i.e. penal code) should be collected by the State (via county courts) and municipal code violations by the cities.

It's so nice to think that the state views "traffic violations' not as a way of helping prevent accidents or ensure our safety but yes as a revenue generator. Next time you get a ticket, that's exactly what your paying for. Maybe its time for a change for the blue states one party system.

The problem with traffic laws is it is enforced sporadically without any consistency. When you have extremelly reckless motorists on the road, I can see the need for fines. However, the city of Los Angeles as well as other cities should make sure the traffic lights are syncronized. One is taking one's life at risk at these traffic lights which are not even synchronzied or is the reason for that so that, they can victimize more taxpayers? Also, where are the police when people run thru traffic stops at intersections repeatedly without anyone getting a ticket? The only time these drivers hit their brakes is when they are about to hit you! Stop means stop yet, the police have not even enforced this simple rule.


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