2/28/2017California City Doubles Down On Yellow Time Shortening
Fremont, California intends to lock in extra red light camera revenue by shortening yellows permanently.
The inadvertent shortening of yellow times at intersections in Fremont, California helped the San Francisco suburb's red light cameras generate an extra $200,000 in revenue every month. Newly obtained internal city emails discussing the scandal confirm that the city's public works director intends to re-shorten the yellow times to lock in an extra $2.4 million in photo ticketing proceeds.
"It is noted that the signals are currently operating with an excessive level of yellow time, and we plan to reduce it," Public Works Director Hans F. Larsen wrote in a February 13 email to the city manager.
Larsen sent the messages in response to the KPIX television investigative report that found the intersection of Mowry Avenue and Farwell Drive and the intersection of Mowry Avenue and Blacow Road each had their yellow signal warning times increased from 4.0 to 4.7 seconds to comply with state law in 2015, only to have them slashed to 4.0 seconds in February 2016, and then put back where they belonged at 4.7 seconds in November 2016. The effect of the timing changes was easily seen in charts showing the number of $500 red light camera tickets plunging 68-77 percent when the timing was 4.7 seconds, and spiking right back to their initial levels as soon as timing was shortened to 4.0 seconds. At first, Larsen denied the signals timing was changed at all.
"I've been assured by my staff that the yellow light timing was only changed (increased to 4.7 seconds) in July 2015 and has not changed since then," Larsen wrote in a February 4 email chain.
He blamed the spikes and drops in ticketing on "seasonal variations, traffic growth, navigation apps and the 'rebound' effect." He also chastised KPIX for "misleading" the public by not mentioning these factors. The next day, Larsen changed his story.
"Despite my staff's strong belief that the signal timing wasn't adjusted as the KPIX report suggests, we are looking into the possibility that a student intern (who is no longer with us) may have facilitated a timing change without key staff knowing about it," Larsen wrote on February 5. "We have a system to check signal timing at the red light camera intersections quarterly by police department and public works staff, so it seems inconceivable that a problem would have been undiscovered for the eight months that violations were high as the news story reports."
Larsen then promised to check with all the employees and contractors who had access to the signal timing cabinets. The investigation revealed that the facts reported in the media were, in fact, correct.
"Upon further review of the issue this week, we found that the yellow time had changed back to 4.0 seconds in February 2016 and then back again to 4.7 seconds in October 2016," Larsen wrote on February 13. "These work efforts were conducted by different members of public works staff, along with student interns and consultants."
Rather than keep the current low level of red light violations in place, however, Larsen declared the 4.0 second signal timing "correct."
"The period of time the signals were operating with 4.7 seconds of yellow time was above and beyond the minimum standards," Larsen wrote on February 13.
According to the records obtained by the Highwayrobbery.net website, dropping timing back to 4 seconds will generate an additional $2.4 million in revenue, which is important factor in the budget. Fremont's employees are among the highest paid in the nation. Participants in the shortened yellow timing email conversation included City Manager Fred Diaz, paid $407,895 in 2015, Police Chief Richard Lucero, $404,810, and Police Lieutenant Michael Tegner, $269,702. Larsen's predecessor as public works director pocketed just under $300,000. In total, 267 of the city's employees took home over $200,000 a year.