It's been nearly five months since the Santa Maria City Council gave the green light for cameras to capture red-light runners in the act, and officials hope to have the program operational by mid-May.

Initially, city staff members expected the program to begin 90 days after the council approved it Oct. 17, but officials say the start-up work has taken longer than expected.

“It's new and we want to make sure we are dotting our i's and crossing our t's and make sure we are compliant,” said David Beas, Santa Maria senior civil engineer.

However, the delay is not sitting well with Police Chief Dan Macagni, who is anxiously awaiting the new tool for his department.

“There are delays that I am not really pleased about, but I don't have much choice,” he said. “We should have been issuing citations in October of last year. Frankly, I am not happy about it.”

Over the past 18 months the police department has issued 508 citations for red-light violations, according to department data.

And while installation has been stalled, the city has decided that the first intersection to get red-light cameras will be Miller Street and Betteravia Road.

With City Council members frustrated by what they saw as bad drivers, the council unanimously approved a three-year contract with Nestor Traffic Systems for a program to deter violators by installing cameras at intersections.

The fines collected are expected to cover the program costs, officials said. First-time offenses start at $390 - a fee that is established by the courts, not the city.

In the first 30 days of the program, violators caught on camera will receive only warnings, not citations. City officials are also planning an “education campaign” about the new system.

Since the cameras are connected to street lights, the program is being coordinated through the Engineering Department. Engineering officials are looking over the intersection design that was proposed by the Nestor company, Beas said. He expects the plan to be returned with comments to Nestor this week and then the vendor can apply for the installation permits.

Once the permits are issued, the company has a 40-day construction window, Beas said. Adding that to the 30-day warning period, the first citations from the camera program aren't expected until June.

The overall cost for the program varies depending on how many intersections are included, since Nestor charges a monthly fee per camera.

For the Miller Street and Betteravia Road intersection, the city is planning cameras on two approaches, one costing $4,460 and the other $4,170, Beas said.

After the initial camera, each additional one costs $4,170.

Since the program is designed to be “cost neutral,” Nestor is allowing a 60-day grace period before the city is charged so that the first citations would be issued and money from the fines could be used to pay for the program.

The Miller and Betteravia intersection was selected for cameras after discussions between engineering and police officials.

It is also an intersection of two city streets, unlike Main Street and Broadway, which are state highways under Caltrans jurisdiction.

Patrol officers see a high number of red light violations at Miller and Betteravia, said Sgt. Rico Flores of the SMPD traffic bureau.

Other intersections that the police department would like to see outfitted with cameras include: Betteravia Road and Bradley Road, Stowell Road and Miller Street, Bradley Road and Stowell Road, and Broadway and Betteravia.

Intersections along Broadway won't be phased in, however, until the state gives approval. City officials are optimistic that will be soon, since they are receiving positive feedback from Caltrans staff, Beas said.

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

March 7, 2007