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Traffic Camera Companies Step Up Fight Against Ballot Measures
Traffic camera companies fight initiative measures in Washington and Houston. Vote on camera ban advances in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Albuquerque Councilor Dan Lewis
Although red light camera supporters insist the programs enjoy broad support among the public, traffic camera companies are taking extraordinary measures to block ballot measures that would gauge public sentiment on the issue. Anti-photo enforcement initiatives are meeting corporate opposition in five cities in Washington state while American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is moving to reinstate red light camera use rejected by a majority of Houston, Texas residents. Albuquerque, New Mexico appears to be the only city with an unopposed referendum vote in play.

The city council on Monday voted 5-4 in favor of a motion by Councilor Dan Lewis to ask residents to decide whether automated ticketing machines should be banished from Albuquerque. Members of the council debated whether it was possible to offer voters a chance at a binding referendum or not, but most agreed that the council should respect the will of voters either way.

"The city clerk is instructed to place the following proposal on the next municipal election ballot, and the qualified voters of the city of Albuquerque shall be permitted to vote 'for' or 'against' the following proposal: PROPOSITION SHALL THE ALBUQUERQUE CITY COUNCIL CONTINUE AUTHORIZING THE 'SAFE TRAFFIC OPERATIONS PROGRAM', COMMONLY CALLED THE 'RED LIGHT CAMERA PROGRAM'?" the adopted resolution stated.

The vote will happen in October if Mayor Richard J. Berry approves the measure. Last year, Anaheim, California's city council became the first to offer voters an opportunity to ban red light cameras without the need for filing petitions. The ban was adopted with 73 percent of the vote.

In Bellingham, Washington on Monday, residents turned in 7000 signatures on a petition to ban the cameras, even though only 3880 were needed. The city signed a contract with ATS specifically giving ATS the right to sue to block a voter initiative. Longview's petition came up an estimated 865 signatures short, but organizers are scrambling to obtain more before the deadline. In Monroe, organizers collected 2100 signatures -- equal to two out of every three registered voters in the city. On Tuesday, the city council voted to ignore the wishes of residents and file suit on behalf of the red light camera company to block the vote. Signatures are still being collected in Redmond.

"This outpouring of public support for a public vote on those obnoxious ticketing cameras is really awe-inspiring," Tim Eyman with Voters Want More Choices wrote in an email. "In my fifteen years of doing initiatives, I've never seen anything like it... at the end of the day, it is the issue itself -- a public vote on automatic ticketing cameras -- that inspired so many local citizens to demand their voices be heard at the ballot box."

In Houston, Texas, ATS issued a $20 million ultimatum to the city council on Monday. A majority of voters in November demanded the cameras be thrown out, but ATS plans to turn them on anyway.

"Unless we hear otherwise from you, we are taking steps to reinstate, fully functionalize and resume processing red light violations for all currently installed city of Houston red light safety cameras beginning at 12:01am on August 1, 2011," ATS General Counsel George J. Hittner wrote.

Hittner had a colleague of his father's throw out the public vote last week. The ATS letter threatened to sue for "$20 million dollars or more" if the city failed to reactivate the cameras. The city council has yet to respond. Photo enforcement has never survived a public vote.

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