21 Aug 2014
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Walnut to Keep Red Light Camera for at Least 3 More Months

Walnut to Keep Red Light Camera for at Least 3 More Months
The red light cameras in Walnut will stay put, at least for a few more months.

The Walnut City Council Wednesday night voted 4-0 to keep the cameras at the Grand/Amar/Temple intersection in place for three more months to give them more time to study options, look at data, and make a decision.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Tragarz abstained.

"This is a very important issue," Mayor Antonio "Tony" Cartagena said. "There's a saying 'haste makes waste.' If we decide, it should be based on the facts."

The city's contract with RedFlex, the company that provides the cameras, was set to expire Feb. 27.

Tragarz asked if the city could get that additional information by that February date and make a decision before expiration, but Councilman Bob Pacheco, who made the motion to put off the vote for three months, suggested the council take its time.

"We don't need to rush to complete this in three meetings," he said. "There's more reasons to decide why we need to or don't need to and staff needs the additional time."

Councilman Eric Ching, who agreed with Pacheco's call for more time, requested a study session at some point on the program for more information.

The city's photo enforcement program was approved in 2006 and extended for five years in February 2009.

The program costs the city $141,116 annually, $140,016 for RedFlex and $1,100 for providing annual training for the law enforcement technician who oversees it, according to the staff report.

The city estimates it gets around $130,000 in revenue annually, with $63,700 of the money restricted for public safety uses only, wrote Senior Management Analyst Rosalea Layman in a report to council.

Walnut issued 5,033 citations to drivers turning right on red at the two marked corners of the intersection in 2013.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department supports the red light camera program. 

Capt. Jeff Scroggin said removing the cameras could result in an additional cost annually to the city of $$260,659.  That cost would be the price for hiring one full-time deputy to patrol the streets, should that be needed in the future, he said.

With the cameras in place, deputies don't need to do enforcement at that intersection. They only need to go there when accidents occur, he said.

"I am concerned that if the cameras are removed, there would be an increase of people pushing across the intersection to get into Mt. SAC," he said.

The city cites safety as they key reason that the cameras were installed.

In the seven years before the cameras were installed, the intersection has an average of 5.7 rear-end type accidents per year and an average of 1.4 broadside-type collisions, the most serious variety, according to the staff report.

After installation, the rear-end accidents increased to 8.7 per year and the broadside variety decreased to 1.1 per year.

Layman said that Photo Enforcement Programs will typically cause an increase in rear-end type collisions and cause a decrease in the more serious broadside type collisions.

The use of red light cameras has been controversial in some ways, with opponents and proponents debating whether the devices enhance safety or even if they are legal.

Several cities have canceled their programs in recent years, including Los Angeles, Pasadena, Whittier, and Long Beach.  Cities with programs still in place include Covina, West Covina, Baldwin Park, and Montebello.

Speakers for and against the cameras in Walnut shared their thoughts on the program.

"Somebody was breaking the law and they got caught. That's just life," said Jim Dixon, Jr. "The bottom line is safety and the red light cameras are working in my opinion."

Phil Bennett said the cameras and restriction to turning right on red at two of the approaches help keep Mt. SAC students and other pedestrians protected some.

"We need to think of safety," he said.  "You've got students crossing that street and you've got people who want to make a right turn, they are looking at at cars in the intersection, not at the people crossing the street."

Those opposed to the cameras said that statistics don't show that the program has made the intersection safer at all.

Jim Lester said that a "no right turn on red" lighted sign with a symbol is all Walnut needs to deal with safety issues. He also cited an unexplained doubling of tickets in September 2012, as a major concern.

"You have an obligation to provide for public safety," he said. "The cameras have not improved public safety may have even made things worse. Ticketing is up, not down like we wold expect from cameras."

Jay Beeber, with Safer Streets LA, gave the council members an analysis of the city's program that included accident data he compiled.

He said that the city should be looking at red light running collisions rather than rear end or broadside to gauge the safety of the intesection with the cameras in place.

From 2002 to 2006, the intersection had one red-light-running-related collision, compared to five from 2007 to 2011, after the camera was installed, according to Beeber. Rear end collisions there totaled 24 before the program and 43 in the five years after, he said.  

In the staff report, the city lists 9 before the program for broadside collisions and and eight after, he said.

"That difference is not statistically significant," he said. "So the claim that the intersection is safer because there are less broadside collisions is not statistically supported."

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