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California: Judge Finds Yellow Times Too Short At Camera Intersection
Los Alamitos, California will have to decide whether to refund or continue fighting red light camera tickets at short-yellow intersection.

Attorney Scott Ball
Officials in Los Alamitos, California will soon have to decide whether they will refund red light camera tickets illegally issued in the city. Last week, Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Lyle J. Robertson dismissed nineteen red light camera tickets because the city was caught shortchanging motorists on yellow signal timing.

Attorney Scott R. Ball filed the challenge after noticing that the yellow time at the photo enforced intersection of Katella Avenue and Bloomfield Street was unusually short at 4.0 seconds. Under state law, the yellow timing is set based on the speed of traffic at a red light camera approach. Ball figured out that the city's traffic engineers measured traffic speeds in both westbound and eastbound directions and averaged the two figures to arrive at the 4.0 second calculation. This methodology did not comply with the law, as the camera only tickets people traveling westbound, where traffic speeds of 41 MPH require a 4.3 second minimum yellow timing.

The city's attorneys attempted to argue that only people who received a ticket up to 0.3 seconds after the light turned red should have their cases dismissed, but Ball countered that the city cannot have it both ways. It cannot enforce split-second violations of the vehicle code while simultaneously violating another section of the code.

"Compliance with the law is a precondition to issuing the tickets in the first place," Ball told TheNewspaper in an interview. "The fact that the camera wasn't in compliance means all the tickets should be thrown out, and the judge agreed with that."

San Mateo was caught last year using illegally short yellow times at its photo enforced locations, and the city decided to refund all 948 tickets worth $511,920. A Los Alamitos city councilman could not say whether refunds were on the table since the issue has not yet been presented before the full council. A decision will have to be made soon, as more red light camera tickets are on Commissioner Robertson's docket for Friday.

For his part, Ball will not drop the issue. He has another 72 clients set for trial within the next six weeks over tickets issued at Katella and Bloomfield. The city and its vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia, have collected an estimated $500,000 from the location.

"It may be possible to claw back some of that money," Ball said. "I'm going to be looking into doing that, either as a class action or on an individual basis... For someone who just paid the ticket or took traffic school, it may be possible to undo that and set it for trial where it is going to be dismissed."

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