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City council makes exception to Arizona boycott

Joseph Wright | 6/30/2010, 5 p.m.

Citing a need to ensure public safety, the Los Angeles City Council made an exemption to its economic ban of Arizona recently by extending the contract of a Scottsdale-based company that operates L.A.'s red light cameras, "The boycott (of the state of Arizona) never intended to impede public safety," Councilman Richard Alarcon said. "It intended to, if anything, send forth a message to Arizona, but not to negatively impact of the city of Los Angeles."

The council unanimously voted to extend the city's contract with American Traffic Solutions by 10 months at a cost of $2.3 million, to prevent having to switch off the red light cameras, while Los Angeles is in the process of soliciting bids for a new contract.

The contract with the Arizona firm would have expired June 30.

The council decision came after Sergeant Matt McWilly, photo red light operator for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), testified about the program's effectiveness. "Every year, the photo red-light program has showed a decrease in red light-related traffic collisions, with a 40 percent reduction in 2008," Sgt. McWilly said.

During the two years prior to the installation of 32 red light cameras across the city, there were nine traffic deaths at those intersections, five of which were caused by drivers speeding through a red light, McWilly pointed out.

Since the cameras were installed, there have not been any red light-related deaths at these intersections. "That's a testament to the cameras," the sergeant said.

However, there were council members who criticized the current contract, noting that a report from the city's top budget analyst described the red light cameras as a money-wasting venture.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, estimated the city would have to pay $3.9 million a year to continue operating the program, while expecting to collect $3.6 million in revenue during the same period.

McWilly countered that Santana did not include expected revenue from unpaid citations. "We have approximately $50,000 in unpaid citations still out there that haven't been paid by traffic violators, which would raise approximately $5.9 million for the city of Los Angeles. That would bring the program from being in the red to being right back in the black."

The fine for a moving violation caught on a red light camera increased by $20 to $466. Of that amount, the city collects $150. The rest goes to Los Angeles County and the Sate of California.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn observed that Los Angeles and the LAPD appear to be doing most of the "heavy lifting," when it comes to enforcing red-light violations and questioned the need to continue working with the contractor. "Looks like we're doing all the work," Hahn said. "They install the cameras and monitor them, but then it's up to us to look at the images and issue citations. If we have to appear in court, we do that. At the end of the day, we're giving money to the state, giving money to the county, and we are losing money.

"Do we actually need a third person involved in this?" she asked. "Why do we need somebody in Arizona or anywhere else?"

The councilwoman also questioned the LAPD's conclusions about public safety in the intersections with red-light cameras. She noted that over a certain time frame, some of the intersections experienced an increase in traffic collisions, after the cameras were installed.

The council approved the economic boycott of Arizona on in May, in response to the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which has not yet taken effect. The law gives Arizona law enforcement personnel the power to check the immigration status of suspects they have stopped for other reasons, if there is a reasonable suspicion the motorists are in the United States illegally. Despite charges from opposition to the bill that it would encourage and allow racial profiling, 1070 supporters stress that the bill specifically bars law enforcement from profiling suspects based on race or ethnicity.