San Mateo County Superior Court executive questions use of red light cameras

By Joshua Melvin
San Mateo County Times

Posted: 11/13/2009 04:37:19 PM PST
Updated: 11/13/2009 04:46:16 PM PST

Click photo to enlarge

A bank of red light cameras have been installed at the intersection of Westborough Boulevard and El Camino Real in South San Francisco, Calif., photographed Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. Residents in South San Francisco are up in arms over the new red light cameras. (John Green/Staff)

My Town

REDWOOD CITY Drivers who get hit with a red light camera citation might have an unlikely ally: San Mateo County Superior Court.
Court Executive Officer John Fitton said people are spending a lot of money on red light camera tickets and the court is being pushed to its capacity limits for a program that he says may be out of balance.
"Are we doing right by the public?" he asked.
He said safety, which is the apparent objective of the cameras, is a good thing, but questioned if the $446 fine that comes with a red light camera citation is too high for most people to pay, especially during poor economic times.
Fitton wonders if ticketing a driver who rolls through a stop while making a right hand turn at an intersection is necessary, given the hefty cost of the ticket.
"It's questionable whether the trade offs are appropriate," he said. "There is no question that agencies are making money."
The court paid out about $1.7 million this year to the seven police agencies in San Mateo County that have red light cameras. Cities get between 27 and 32 percent of the fine, the state pulls in 44 percent and the county gets between 23 to 28 percent, according to court sources.
But the court itself gets almost none of the money being generated by the tickets, he said, and must take on the massive workload associated with them.
"There's a balance there and I don't think we have found it," he said.