4/3/2007California: Push for Speed Cameras Violates Law
Exclusive: Speed cameras are coming to California roads, even though the devices are forbidden by the legislature.
A little-known California governmental agency is quietly planning to install speed cameras on a number of popular routes later this year, even though state law explicitly forbids the use of photo radar. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) signed a contract with Australian camera vendor Redflex on March 22 allowing the company to operate a network of thirteen speed and red light cameras. MRCA is an agency of the state government with jurisdiction over 50,000 acres of public lands between Santa Monica and Simi Valley.
The five-year contract provides for two fixed and one mobile speed camera, plus ten red light cameras (which will also be used at stop signs). The first cameras would be installed at Franklin Canyon in the heart of Los Angeles, located off of Mulholland Drive. Another speed and red light camera will be installed at the top of Reseda. The remaining red light cameras will be located at the top of Topanga, the Temescal Canyon front lot -- off Sunset Boulevard -- and the Hollywood Bowl Overlook.
In 2000, the California legislature banned photo radar with a statute clarifying that although it authorized the use of red light cameras, the legislature, "does not authorize the use of photo radar for speed enforcement purposes by any jurisdiction." (CVC 21455.6) The legislature also rejected several bills that would have authorized automated speeding ticket programs.
MRCA officials claim the provision banning photo radar does not apply to them as the agency has independent authority to enforce its own ordinances. Several Santa Clara County Court rulings rejected the same reasoning when used by the city of San Jose to protect the photo radar system it had operated since 1996. The city was forced to drop its photo radar program last month, and it now faces the prospect of millions in refunds for illegally collected fines.
The agency will face additional legal challenges. MRCA's contract specifies that Redflex will keep $20 for every fixed camera citation it is able to issue and $40 for every mobile speed camera ticket. Both amounts will increase yearly, adjusted for inflation. This form of compensation is specifically forbidden by California law.
"A contract between a governmental agency and a manufacturer or supplier of automated enforcement equipment may not include provision for the payment or compensation to the manufacturer or supplier based on the number of citations generated," California Vehicle Code section 21455.5 states.
The contract provides details on just how much control over the program Redflex will have. At no point do MRCA park rangers play an important role in the operation of the system. Redflex will even "interact with court and judicial personnel" to ensure the maximum number of violations are processed and provide "public relations resources" and "expert witnesses" to defend the tickets in court. Redflex will also mail out citations to motorists using regular first-class postal mail.
For their own correspondence, however, MRCA and Redflex do not consider first-class mail to be "reputable." Instead, correspondence between the ticket company and agency can only be made through an overnight courier service or registered mail.
The Franklin Canyon cameras are scheduled to be installed within sixty days of a public "kickoff meeting" whose date has yet to be announced.
The full text of the contract between MRCA and Redflex is available in a large, 1.7mb PDF file at the source link below.