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L.A. council exempts red-light camera contract from Arizona boycott

June 23, 2010 |  2:28 pm

Los Angeles' red-light camera program was temporarily exempted Wednesday from the city's contracting boycott of Arizona prompted by that state's new immigration-enforcement policy.

City Council members, noting that the Los Angeles Police Department backs the photo-enforcement program as a public safety matter, voted, 13-0, to extend a multimillion-dollar agreement with Scottsdale-based American Traffic Solutions.

The existing contract with ATS, which operates cameras at 32 intersections, would have expired next week, shutting down a traffic program that catches tens of thousands of red-light violators a year.

There was little appetite among lawmakers for disrupting the much-debated program, which most council members appear to support. The LAPD says red-light-related accidents declined about 9% at the photo-enforced intersections.

Councilman Tom LaBonge strongly backed the LAPD, citing a report that there have been no deaths from red-light-running accidents at affected intersections since cameras were installed. Councilman Richard Alarcon warned that if the cameras were shutdown and someone was killed at one of those intersections, "the media would have a field day."

Some members questioned the cost, legal footing and effectiveness of the cameras in light of plans to issue a new contract next year that would expand the system to more locations.

The LAPD's statistics show that about half of the 32 photo-enforced intersections have either had no change in accidents or an increase, said Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

"That's not a very good record," she said. And some of the city's worst intersections for traffic safety don’t have cameras, she said.

She and Councilman Paul Koretz also pointed to a report from the city's top budget advisor that says Los Angeles' revenue from tickets falls about $300,000 short of covering payments to ATS and the LAPD's costs to run the program.

"Is there any way for us not to lose money?" Koretz asked, citing the city’s fiscal crisis.

Bidding for the new contract, which is expected to be opened next spring, could become further entangled in the boycott. Both the existing camera vendor and a top competitor are headquartered in Arizona.

The council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last month agreed to halt most travel and contracting with Arizona after the state adopted a law requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country illegally.

City officials say the law encourages racial profiling and violations of constitutional rights, a charge denied by Arizona's governor and supporters of the law.

-- Rich Connell at Los Angeles City Hall