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Murrieta's Red Light Cameras Not Going Away

City Council gave direction to renew the City's red light camera contract, plus add two more.

Murrieta's Red Light Cameras Not Going Away

Red light cameras will stay in Murrieta and more will be added.

After City Council heard a report from the Murrieta Police Department and listened to public comments, four of five councilmembers supported renewing the contract, which is set to expire this year.

Cameras will stay at three Murrieta intersections: Murrieta Hot Springs and Whitewood, Murrieta Hot Springs and Margarita, and Nutmeg and Clinton Keith.

Discussion centered around removing the lights from the Margarita and Nutmeg intersections after Murrieta Police Cpl. Jay Froboese, who oversees the camera program, said violations were down to less than one a day at those intersections.

The cameras were placed at those intersections in 2006 after a fatal red light accident at Nutmeg and Clinton Keith, and a near fatal accident at Margarita and Murrieta Hot Springs.

Councilwoman Kelly Bennett suggested leaving those lights in place to avoid the  potential of those types of accidents from recurring. Her suggestion was met with support by three other councilmembers, with the exception of Doug McAllister, who said he was opposed to renewing the contract.

McAllister was present when the original contract was approved in 2005.

"I am not convinced that the things I was told in 2005 have actually come to fruition in 2011. I am not too convinced that the thing that drives this is public safety. I am concerned that we are taking the officers off the street for four hours a day to operate them," McAllister said.

"What you have just described to me is a band-aid. It will only work for as long as the band-aid is in place," he said.

A staff report showed rear-end collisions had increased at the intersections since the cameras went in. Froboese said that may be due to the increased population between when they went in and now.

The two intersections where cameras will be added are at the freeway off-ramps at northbound Interstate 15 and Murrieta Hot Springs Road, and southbound Interstate 215 at Murrieta Hot Springs Road.

The intersections were suggested by American Traffic Systems, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company contracted by the City to run the cameras. The company suggested another intersection--at Murrieta Hot Springs and Madison--but staff was against having a camera there. It would be based on violations, not the number of collisions.

Froboese stated that the police department's purpose in having the cameras was to prevent fatal and major injury collisions, not to bring in revenue.

He said there were 29 broadside collisions in five years at the Interstate 215/Murrieta Hot Springs off-ramp, and 33 broadside collisions at northbound Interstate 15/Murrieta Hot Springs, which is why staff agreed with the company on those intersections.

Big Brother

Many members of the public spoke about their concerns over being videotaped at the intersections.

"The cameras are incongruent with a free society. They smack of an oppressive society, big brother," said Julie Gilbart.

"They infringe on our civil, personal and economic liberties," said another resident, Francis Burns. "You are all constitutional officers….it’s my belief that any government’s No. 1 priorty is to preserve our civil liberties. Without those things intact, we have nothing left."

Councilman Rick Gibbs pointed out that cameras are installed in most stores nowadays.

"Your chances of being on camera behind the wheel in Murrieta are less than if you walk in any store in Murrieta," Gibbs said. "But by being after that person (red light runner), this program has succeeded. It is fair. It is not perfect. It is not about revenue generation."

The Legality of the Contract

Yet other members of the public were concerned that the City's contract with the company was illegal because it violated state code about revenue-based agreements.

Murrieta resident Diana Serafin pointed out that the contract states that if not enough violations were issued in a month to cover the cost of the lease, the balance would be carried over to the next month.

Froboese said the contract has been examined by two Riverside County judges who routinely hear red light camera cases.

"It has been attacked in court and it has been held up...and every time it has been found to be legal...Our cost neutral contract does exactly the opposite (than generate revenue)."

City Manager Rick Dudley said that when red light cameras first came into play 10 years ago (before they were installed in Murrieta), vendors got paid per ticket.

"So the court disallowed future contracts to be based on that. By the time Murrieta entered its contract in 2005, it was no longer an object," Dudley said.

The City pays a monthly fee to operate the cameras, which under the new contract is $21,035. Staff said the City stands to profit about $4,703 per year under the contract. That monthly fee would likely go up with the addition of two more cameras.

Councilman Gibbs suggested he didn't want the City to keep any of that money. Instead, he wanted it given away to community development block grants. Councilwoman Bennett suggested keeping the money to pay for intersections that didn't pay for themselves, such as Murrieta Hot Springs/Margarita and Clinton Keith/Nutmeg.

Serafin, who organized a protest at a red light camera intersection on Monday, said she still plans to bring a measure to the June ballot, outlawing the cameras in Murrieta.

On the Job

Mayor Randon Lane said he had confidence in the Police Department's handling of the red light camera program.

Three officers monitor video daily of suspected red-light runners. They then choose which citations are valid, sending the information back to the company. The company then mails the citations.

Out of 21,000 recorded violations over five years, 8,500 were issued citations.

"We ask people to do a job, and expect them to do it. I look at our Police Department and I see the years of experience. We have a department that is telling us it has succeeded in every aspect. This is something that we need to continue to provide to make our community to stay safe," Mayor Lane said.

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