And perhaps set a new political course for the city of Corona’s program of using cameras to monitor traffic at certain intersections.
“I changed gears a little bit when I couldn’t get the support on the council,” said Nolan, a City Council member in Corona, Riverside County, in a late December interview.
Without that political support, Nolan took his case to the public. He recently started a Facebook site devoted to background for a move to change Corona’s red-light camera program to administrative citations that carry much less expensive fines than the current system.
That Facebook site had 351 members as of late December. (See the Facebook page here)
Corona’s current system was established to issue regular moving violations in line with California’s enabling legislation. It results in fines exceeding $400 after distributions to the state, the county and the city. Also in the revenue frame is the city paying a $350,000 annual contract to Redflex Traffic Systems to install and maintain cameras, and correspond with scofflaws (and alleged scofflaws) whose vehicles were captured passing under a red light.
In the state of Washington, red-light camera citations result in fines of under $200. “Why should we be so out of whack?” asked Nolan, who is a former police officer.
He said administrative citations would give an officer more flexibility in addressing a traffic violation — issue a warning or a citation that would set a motorist back $100 to $200. Collection agencies could handle those who didn’t pay up, instead of the current system that brings to bear the entire motor vehicle code, points on a license and potential increases in insurance premiums.
Nolan cited the examples of the cities of Roseville and Newman in using administrative citations for red-light camera violations. Newman, a small city in the San Joaquin Valley, went to such a system in October, with first-time offenders getting a fine of $150.
More than 100 California cities have red-light cameras, and new ones continue to come online.
San Rafael started a program on Nov. 1. In the first 30 days at the busy intersection of Third and Irwin, the cameras were activated 752 times and, after review by a police officer, Redflex issued 516 notices of violation (a handful of national companies have the business of administering red-light cameras for municipalities). San Rafael is considering expansion to two more intersections.
In Moreno Valley, a Riverside County neighbor of Corona, public outcry at expensive fines is leading to talk about shutting down the red-light cameras when a pilot program is finished. The City Council is due to take up the discussion again in January, according to media reports.
Nolan said he believes in red-light cameras at high-volume intersections to encourage public safety — not so much to maximize revenue for the city. But two of the six Corona intersections where the cameras are used are left-hand turns into busy malls. At those left-hand turns, Nolan feels, the priority is generating a great volume of tickets.
“I tried to go the administrative citation route, but I can’t get the three votes to do that,” he said. He predicted public sentiment would reach the point where the issue will factor in Corona city elections. “At some point in time my colleagues will wake up to the fact that 20,000 to 24,000 people in 18 months will have been cited.” Many will be Corona voters.
Also, Nolan noted, each fine means $400-plus out of local pockets and not going to Corona retailers to come back to the city as sales tax revenue.
In an October council study session, the city’s finance department estimated the current system would net the city $777,000 in annual revenue, figuring on 16,000 violations per year and a recovery rate of 38 percent for Redflex. For a system such as that advocated by Nolan, the finance department estimates net annual revenue of $23,100, projecting a 50 percent recovery rate for administrative citations.
Nolan still believes in a reasonably run program to enhance public safety. It helps the police with hard-to-enforce laws. Otherwise, the police must devote a lot of resources and a motor officer who must gun through an intersection to pursue a miscreant.
“Once they’re through (the intersection), they’re gone,” he said. “You’ve got to be in the right spot at the right time.”
Lance Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org