12/30/2009Baytown, Texas Residents Demand Vote on Red Light Cameras
Voters in Baytown, Texas file petition calling for referendum on red light cameras.
Baytown, Texas will be the next city where voters decide the fate of red light cameras. A total of 1324 residents, more than double the number required, signed a petition proposing an ordinance that would outlaw photo enforcement in Baytown. Resident Byron Schirmbeck yesterday handed the city clerk a stack of signature sheets, but he expects officials to resist placing the ordinance on the ballot.
"Our fight to hold the city accountable and remove the cameras has just started," Schirmbeck said. "The city has given every indication they intend to invalidate our petition and ignore the will of the people. Even now the city is putting up more cameras even though they know we want a vote on them."
The clerk's office must validate at least 620 petition signatures before the city council would be asked to place the ordinance before voters, but the city council may attempt to block the petition. Earlier this year, the city of Chillicothe, Ohio was so desperate to save its photo ticketing program that it asked the state supreme court to stop the vote on the referendum -- a request that the high court swiftly denied. College Station, Texas likewise spent thousands in taxpayer dollars on a lobbying effort designed to allow ticketing to continue. After the election took place, College Station's vendor, American Traffic Solutions, used a front group to file an injunction designed to have the public vote invalidated.
These efforts ultimately failed. As in every case where a referendum on photo ticketing has appeared on the ballot, the public demanded that the automated ticketing machines be removed. Schirmbeck believes Baytown residents will vote against the cameras because the city has been fundamentally dishonest about the program. The city has been caught not only manipulating data but also shortening yellow times at intersections.
At the intersection of Garth and Baker Roads, for example, accidents increased by eleven percent with no reduction in the number of injuries. The city had falsely claimed in reports to the state department of transportation that accidents dropped 63 percent at the same location. In July, Schirmbeck caught the city using an illegally short yellow time of 3.1 seconds at Garth and Baker. Once exposed, the city increased the yellow to 4.5 seconds. As revenue dropped, however, the city quietly shortened that yellow to just 4.0 seconds. It later attempted to justify the move by erecting a "40 MPH" speed limit sign, even though the opposite side of the same road is posted at 45 MPH.
After the clerk determines the validity of the petition, the city council will vote on the proposed ordinance at the next council meeting.