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Red-light runners get a pass after firm ends contract

By Julian J. Ramos/Staff Writer jramos@lompocrecord.com | Posted: Friday, December 4, 2009 11:25 pm | (0) Comments
Font Size:Default font sizeLarger font size With the plug pulled on its red-light-camera traffic-enforcement program by the vendor, Santa Maria officials say they will not prosecute any motorists issued citations along Miller Street at Betteravia and Stowell roads based on camera evidence.
Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco said the City Attorney’s Office and the Police Department intend to dismiss all pending citations in those areas in light of a unilateral decision by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to terminate its contract with the city last month.
Sinco said that after Nov. 20 the city lost the ability to prove red-light violations because the cameras and other equipment were repossessed by ATS.
Without that evidence, the violations couldn’t be proven in court, Sinco said. Also, accepting money from fines would have been unethical, he added.
When the plug was yanked on the program, there were about 123 outstanding citations, not including citations in various stages of the process from Oct. 1 to 31.
Since late 2006, the city had contracted with Nestor Traffic Systems for the camera enforcement program at Miller Street and Betteravia Road and Miller Street and Stowell Road.
Automated cameras recorded video and took pictures when a vehicle entered an intersection on a red light. The photos and video were then reviewed by a city police officer and citations were sent in the mail.
However, the company based in Providence, R.I., went into state court receivership in June and was acquired for $7.1 million by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ATS in September.
The new owner decided to terminate the program after initially indicating its intent to continue Nestor’s contract, city officials announced on Nov. 24.
ATS said it plans to remove all cameras and equipment within 30 days, according to the city.
In November 2006, the City Council approved a three-year contract with Nestor to operate the monitoring system. Under the contract, Nestor only received full compensation if enough fines were collected in a given month, according to the city’s cost-neutral provision. Any difference was carried over to the next month.
Cameras for the first approach to the intersection cost $4,460 monthly, while cameras for any additional approaches at the same intersection cost $4,170 a month. The costs included citation processing, software, and maintenance.
The camera program is cost-neutral — meaning no revenue is generated for the city, according to city officials.
Since the program began at Miller and Betteravia in June 2007 and at Miller and Stowell in June 2008, 2,249 citations have been issued, according to the city.
A red-light violation brings a $406 fine and a penalty of one point on the driver’s record. The fine is paid to the Superior Court and then split between the courts, the county and the city.
An average of 30 citations a month are issued for all movements at the Miller-Stowell intersection — half of them violations while turning right at a red light, according to the city.
Resumption of the program is expected sometime next year, city officials said.
The city Public Works Department has begun the process to seek request for proposals from other traffic camera companies by the end of the year, according to Mark van de Kamp, city management analyst.
A new pact will require City Council approval.