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Divided L.A. Council argues over keeping red-light camera program

June 21, 2011 |  3:16 pm

A red light camera located at La Brea Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

A deeply divided Los Angeles City Council failed Tuesday to muster enough votes to resurrect the city’s photo red-light camera program, delaying yet again a final decision on the controversial initiative.

Faced with a lack of support from his colleagues, Councilman Tony Cardenas did not seek a vote on his proposal asking the Police Commission to keep the existing contractor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, for up to a year while more studies are conducted. The five-member commission voted two weeks ago to kill the program outright.

Seven councilmembers sided with the commission, voting to drop the program on July 31. But because neither side had a majority of eight votes, the issue will come up again on Wednesday.

Of the 4,683 intersections in Los Angeles that have traffic signals, 32 are equipped with cameras that photograph any vehicle that crosses against the light or turns right without coming to a full stop. Critics of the program call it costly and unfair to motorists who pay the fines. Drivers who receive red-light camera tickets and don’t pay them face no risk of losing their car registrations or their drivers’ licenses, according to police.

“There’s no consequences whatsoever. No fine, no impact on your record, no insurance, nothing,” said Councilman Dennis Zine, a retired traffic officer who called for the program to end. “If you don’t have teeth in the law, why have the law?” he added.

Backers of the cameras said they have led to a decline in traffic collisions at the intersections where they are installed. “People are dying by running red lights, and that’s the primary concern here,” said Councilman Richard Alarcon. “If this program will reduce that number, who cares about the cost?”

Three councilmembers -– Jose Huizar, Paul Koretz and Ed Reyes -– sided with Police Commission President John Mack, who voiced dismay two weeks ago that the city has rarely acted on its boycott of Arizona, which was approved in a protest over that state’s immigration laws. American Traffic Solutions is based in Scottsdale.

Council President Eric Garcetti also voiced alarm about the cost of the tickets, which can exceed $500. For a low-income family, that amount can be “devastating,” he said.

That remark drew a tart response from Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who favors the cameras. “What is even more devastating is if you lose a life or cripple someone for life because of a traffic accident,” he said.


Two L.A. councilmen want to hold off ending red light camera program

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: A red-light camera located at La Brea Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times