S.M. City Council to consider red-light cameras
By Malia Spencer/Senior Staff Writer

After months of discussion, the Santa Maria City Council is finally hearing a proposal to bring red-light enforcement cameras to intersections within the city.

For the council that has identified traffic safety as its top priority, city staff is recommending conceptual approval of a red-light enforcement program. Staff is also recommending that the council authorize public works officials to negotiate an agreement with Rhode Island-based Nestor Traffic Systems.

If the council approves the program, city officials estimate that the first cameras can be in place within 90 days.

The council is slated to hold a public hearing on the matter at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

Nestor emerged as the top candidate for the contract after two proposals were reviewed by representatives from the city's public works and police departments, the city manager's office, Caltrans and the Auto Club of Southern California, according to the council staff report.

The Nestor proposal includes the company setting up the camera system, said Police Chief Danny Macagni.

Each morning images from the cameras are downloaded to computers in the traffic bureau and an officer checks them to either accept or reject a photo, he said.

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Once a photo is accepted - meaning officers can clearly see the driver, the car and that a violation has occurred - then the image is sent back to Nestor, Macagni said. The company then identifies the driver through a connection with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and issues a citation.

A ticket for a first offense costs $390, Macagni said. However, once the program starts, for the first 30 days warning citations will be issued while officials notify the public that red light enforcement has begun.

Any intersection with cameras will have signs warning drivers, and signs at the city's entrances also will indicate there are cameras at intersections, officials said.

City officials note that only red-light violations can be cited with the cameras.

City officials are looking for the program to be “cost neutral” with the fines paying for the system.

It is recommended that three cameras are set up at each intersection at various approaches, according to the staff report, for a cost of $12,800 per intersection.

To begin the program, Nestor proposes a 60-day grace period before payment is due so that the first violations begin to return, according to the staff report.

Macagni is optimistic that cameras will significantly decrease the number of red light violations in the city.

“It's another tool to try to curb this very serious problem we have seen emerge,” Macagni said. “There is an epidemic out there (of people running red lights) and it's a dangerous epidemic.”

As violations and resulting revenue, decrease, the city will be analyzing the costs and benefits of the system, said Assistant City Manager Rick Hayden.

He noted that company officials have indicated the majority of systems pay for themselves. However, if the city must cover some of the cost, Haydon said there is sufficient funding through the city's share of the gas tax.

To start, the city is planning to install cameras at one intersection. That intersection will not be along Broadway or Main Street, because as state highways, those roads are under Caltrans jurisdiction.

City staff are still talking with Caltrans to expand cameras to those roads as well.

Before the meeting, Mayor Larry Lavagnino voiced support for the proposal.

“We have to do something. The violations in Santa Maria are just unacceptable,” he said. “I am all for whatever we need to do to control traffic at these intersections.”

Malia Spencer can be reached at 739-2219 or mspencer@


Oct. 16, 2006