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Commentary by James Farley
| Sunday, Mar 22, 2015

JamesFarleyThis is an open letter to the city of Santa Clarita and its residents regarding the current state of red-light photo enforcement in the city.

 

Some significant changes have happened regarding the red-light photo enforcement program in the city of Santa Clarita in the last year. We have been waiting on the result of an engineering study regarding the proper left-turn yellow light timing for several months. The study has concluded, and the decision on where the city goes with the program is on the agenda for the City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 24.

 

History

A brief history of the last year is important. The contract between the city and contractor Redflex was set to expire April 1, 2014. Per the previous contract, the city manager had the unilateral authority to renew the contract for an additional two years.

Prior to this, I addressed the City Council and asked them to take the decision back from the city manager, as so many things have been learned about the problems with camera enforcement over the last decade. The council agreed. I then issued my first open letter to the city outlining several of the problems, but I focused on improper left-turn yellow light timing trapping motorists otherwise driving safely and illegally.

City Council To Look At Red Light Camera Renewal In MarchAt the meeting prior to the renewal deadline of April 1, the council approved the city staff recommendation of renewing the contract on a month-to-month basis, requested a report back within 12 months, and asked for a full study of the program including left-turn yellow timing.

In February 2014, the city began testing longer left-turn timing at some of the camera intersections. The city also hired engineering firm Kimley-Horn to do a thorough study to determine what the proper yellow light duration should be for left turns in our city.

I give the city kudos for doing this. They have taken my concerns seriously and have taken positive steps. I am also grateful that the city has invited me to be a consultant in the study and participate in meetings on this issue. More importantly, I am happy they invited Jay Beeber of Safer Streets LA, my mentor and an expert in the field, to be a consultant. His expertise and credentials on this issue are deep. Jay served on the subcommittee of the California Traffic Control Devices Committee, which recommended changes to state standards and guidance for yellow-light timing. As noted in the staff report, these recommendations have since been incorporated into the latest version of the California MUTCD released in November. Jay looks out for the folks in the state of California on this issue and specifically the citizens of and visitors to the city of Santa Clarita. Without Jay’s involvement, this issue would not have advanced to where it is today.

 

Study Results

The chart below shows the historical yellow light duration for the left turn lanes at the 10 camera-controlled intersections in our city. It also shows the duration for the seven approaches where the city tested different durations in 2014 as well as the times the Kimley-Horn engineering firm determined were required. The last column shows the difference between the recommended time and the 3.5 seconds that the lights have been set at for the lifetime of the photo enforcement program.

 

Yellow Light Duration (seconds)at the 10 Controlled Approaches in Santa Clarita
Intersection (Left Turn Lanes) Historical 2014 Test Kimley Horn Study Recommended Difference Study vs Historical
Valencia EB @ McBean 3.5 4.5 4.5 1.0
Valencia WB @ McBean 3.5 4.5 4.5 1.0
Magic Mountain EB @ McBean 3.5 3.5 4.3 0.8
Newhall Ranch WB @ McBean 3.5 4.0 4.9 1.4
Newhall Ranch EB @ Bouquet Cyn 3.5 4.0 4.8 1.3
Bouquet Cyn NB @ Newhall Ranch 3.5 4.0 4.7 1.2
Bouquet Cyn NB @ Seco 3.5 3.5 4.4 0.9
Whites Cyn SB @ Soledad 3.5 4.0 4.0 0.5
Whites Cyn NB @ Soledad 3.5 4.0 4.7 1.2
Orchard Village SB @ Lyons 3.5 3.5 3.7 0.2

 

 

That the recommended times are far above 3.5 seconds is not a surprise. It makes total sense based on all that was presented in my first open letter. The study now confirms that 3.5 seconds is too short a duration for all of the tested intersections.

(Note: The engineering department should not be severely criticized over this. The guidelines that traffic engineers through out the country use are in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. While it recommends good, straight-through yellow light duration, it is weak on its recommendation on left turns, stating simply it is up to each city to decide giving a minimum standard of 3.0 seconds. Our city added .5 seconds to this. Many cities still have their left turn yellows still set at only 3.0 seconds.)

 

Implications

The study result means that most of those who received tickets for entering the intersection within the difference time in the chart above after the light changed to red were ticketed unfairly. This is huge. We are talking thousands of unfair tickets and several million dollars in unfair fines at $490 per violation.

Since my involvement with this, I have had contact with some who have received tickets and have had a personal experience as well. They include:

* A lady with a family that recently moved to our city. She was trapped at the intersection of Magic Mountain Parkway at McBean Parkway. What a great welcome to our city.

* A good friend whose parents were visiting from Arizona last Christmas. On their way out of town at 3:49 a.m. the day after Christmas, they were trapped at the intersection of Orchard Village south at Lyons Avenue. The picture on the violation indicates they were clearly victims of the unfair timing. What a great Christmas gift from our city. They are elderly and just paid the fine.

* My father-in-law, who three years ago received a ticket when he was three days dead. No, it was not another miraculous resurrection. His son from Albany was driving the car while in town for the funeral. This could have been fought, but my distraught mother-in-law insisted on paying it because “she just did not want any trouble in the future.”

These are just a few examples of the impact of unfair law enforcement. Every unfair ticket issued has another story like those above attached to it. The city must now face up to the fact that an abuse has been perpetuated on its citizens and visitors.

I will again give the city kudos for taking action to make sure they get the yellow timing right going forward. That said, we must all expect our city to acknowledge the past error and take positive action to make this right.

 

Remedy

Below are the three options the council is to consider this Tuesday with my response:

 

1. Continue the red-light enforcement program and negotiate contract extension with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. Bring item back to the City Council to approve the new contract.

This is not an acceptable. We are currently paying $4,000 per month per approach for the Redflex service. The program is already losing revenue due to decreased violations and will only lose more when the lights are changed to the proper timing. Jay Beeber of Safer Streets L.A. has estimated that if the program were to continue after the yellow timing changes suggested by the city’s independent consultant Kimley-Horn are fully implemented, the city will lose at least $375,000 to $400,000 annually. The monthly rate would have to be seriously reduced to make the program economically viable.

Additionally, should we not be done with Redflex?

Does anybody believe Redflex was not completely aware that the too-short yellow time in left lanes being used by the city would trap safe drivers? This is the source of their income and survival as a company. Of course they knew. This company brought this abuse to our city. They must go away.

 

2. Suspend red-light photo enforcement program for a minimum of 24 months to assess red-light violation and collision rates. Bring item back to the City Council to either reestablish or discontinue red-light enforcement program.

An equally unacceptable solution. There is nothing left to study. When the city correctly engineers the yellow light durations based on the Kimley-Horn recommendations, our intersections will be safer. There have been studies across the nation beyond our city, as well. It is time for this type of enforcement to go away, now.

 

3. Allow expiration of the current contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and discontinue the red-light photo enforcement program. Authorize final payment for fees owed to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. through contract expiration.

This is the only acceptable solution, and the time is now to implement it. All of the reasons have already been discussed.

 

The ball is now in the city’s court. We must hold our city’s staff and our City Council members accountable to do the right thing and end this program without delay.

 

James Farley is a Santa Clarita resident.

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52 Comments

  1. msc545 says:

    Excellent article. I would add that the city should not allow expiration of the contract, it should also make restitution to the people that were victimized by the scheme in the first place. If Redflex can be shown to have collaborated in setting the yellow light time at 3 seconds, then they too are responsible for a share of the restitution. In any event, the cameras need to be removed and removed NOW. They take deliberate advantage of people who are frightened of all authority, the elderly, and people who simply do not know that the “tickets” are unenforceable. This kind of behavior on behalf of the city breeds disrespect for the law, the police, and they city government.

  2. msc545 says:

    The second sentence about should read “I would add that the city should not *only* allow expiration of the contract, it should also make restitution to the people that were victimized by the scheme in the first place.

    I realize that this is a lot of money, but in effect, a lot of money was *stolen*. When you steal, you make restitution – that is justice and the city is not exempt from that.

  3. msc545 says:

    I really wish we had the ability to edit comments here.

  4. Mr. Farley’s analysis and his conclusions that the program should end are exactly correct.

    The main reason that red light cameras produce profits over their high costs of typically $4,000 per month per camera is when the yellow intervals on both turn and straight through lanes are deliberately set or maintained too short for the actual traffic speeds. This IS a key part of the business plans of the for-profit camera companies because they cannot make profits with lights timed correctly for safety.

    Florida made a change in the yellow interval rules in September 2013 by requiring the left turn lane lights to be the same as for the through lanes, not shorter as was their practice similar to the table for Santa Clarita. At many camera sites, the left turn violation rates dropped by up to 90% – showing that most tickets had been unfair right from the start.

    Santa Clarita residents should contact all the council members by Monday to politely but firmly insist that the program end and the cameras be taken down. The contact information is here:
    http://www.santa-clarita.com/index.aspx?page=71

    Be clear that only an immediate and complete end to the program is acceptable to you.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  5. dennis says:

    This whole program is unacceptable!!We the people are sick and tired of the abuse of power going on in government and the bankers who are robbing our citizens.Theft,unconstitutional, fruad,all in the name of justice its destroying our country and no one cares.I hope people start waking up before its to late!!

  6. Steve Reich says:

    i do find the traffic engineer for the city very lacking in expertise in regards to traffic issues within the city. This guy is never wrong in any issue but countless times citizens of this city have come up to the podium at council meetings to express there frustration with traffic decisions that he has made. I could bring up Benz rd but I won’t. They need to fire him and get someone who knows what they are doing

  7. Chris Anderson says:

    Mr. Farley is entirely correct both in his assessment and his recommendation that Santa Clarita’s camera contract be immediately discontinued. As a former Councilman from another city that struggled with the same issue, we found that the safety impact of the cameras was minimal at best and the cameras were implicated in a number of accidents as drivers, fearful of a camera violation, took unsafe actions only to avoid being “trapped” by a camera. The only real beneficiary to these camera contracts are the vendors who supply them to the city and who profit from their installation and management irrespective the impact they have. As a longtime resident of Santa Clarita, I support Mr. Farley’s position (as I know do MANY others. I am unable to attend the City Council meeting but urge our councilmembers to do what’s best for our community and dispense with the camera enforcement program. Traffic safety, city finances, and enforcement fairness will all benefit as a result.

  8. My comments as a resident AND as a former Councilmember in another jurisdiction that dealt with this same issue are below. The bottom line is that the cameras should go … they don’t benefit traffic safety, they are a financial drain to the city, and they breed nothing but resentment from the driving public who are often forced to make unsafe driving decisions for no reason other than to avoid a camera ticket. Thank you, Mr. Farley, for taking point on this!

  9. My comments as a resident AND as a former Councilmember in another jurisdiction that dealt with this same issue are below. The bottom line is that the cameras should go … they don’t benefit traffic safety, they are a financial drain to the city, and they breed nothing but resentment from the driving public who are often forced to make unsafe driving decisions for no reason other than to avoid a camera ticket. Thank you, Mr. Farley, for taking point on this!

  10. Well said, and I believe it is illegal for a camera to ticket whoever the registered owner of the car is, instead of the driver. Also, do away with these cameras. A living person, officer of the law, should have to observe the alleged offense. Anything else is just a money grab,

  11. Well said, and I believe it is illegal for a camera to ticket whoever the registered owner of the car is, instead of the driver. Also, do away with these cameras. A living person, officer of the law, should have to observe the alleged offense. Anything else is just a money grab,

    • msc545 says:

      Exactly correct. By the way, this website barely works, and it takes a long time for it to register your original post. If you click twice thinking the first one didn’t work, your post will appear twice, as yours did.

  12. mboron says:

    Some time ago I wrote to the city that the “traffic engineers” don’t seem able to figure out
    that left turns take longer that straight through
    traffic. Any driver is aware of this! That’s true
    for every traffic light, not just those with cameras, so fix them ALL!

  13. James says:

    If you are reading this, you probably live in SC and know where SC’s cameras are and how to avoid them. But you are at risk when you travel to an unfamiliar city.

    Here is info on how to cope if you get a ticket.

    1. If it’s from a location in LA County (including SC and the Metro), it can be ignored, as the LA county court system does not report ignored camera tickets to the DMV. Skeptical? Search: red light camera no consequence.

    2. No matter what county it’s from, check to see if it is a Snitch Ticket, the fake/phishing tickets many California cops send out to bluff car owners into IDing the actual driver. Snitch Tickets say, at the top, This is Not a Ticket, and you can ignore them too! Search: Snitch Ticket.

  14. Please switch off — I have seen so many rear end accidents!

  15. Please switch off — I have seen so many rear end accidents!

  16. msc545 says:

    There is a provision in the Bill of Rights that says that you have the right to confront and question your accuser in criminal cases, and traffic violations are criminal in nature. So whom do you confront and question, the machine ? Or the guys from Redflex who personally witnessed nothing and have a financial stake in the outcome ? I believe that this is the reason that the courts refuse to issue bench warrants for people who don’t show up, and why they are never reported to the DMV. For those foolish enough to appear, however, at least one judge that I know of compares the face of the person in court to that of the person driving on the videotape, and if he thinks there is a match, he finds them guilty. The lesson in this is DON’T show up. Nothing will happen to you. If enough people do this we can make the cameras worthless to the city and Redflex even if they leave them in place, which I think they plan to do.

  17. msc545 says:

    Ok, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution read, in part: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

    I think this speaks for itself.

  18. Steve Petzold and James Farley are the SC heroes of local activism and engagement. Instead of just complaining they come armed with facts and logic. WIN!!!!

  19. Anonymous says:

    and Go Pontiac Aztek

  20. As a couple of commenters have said, it would be more fair to also refund the tickets for those unfairly punished. That won’t happen because getting the state government and Redflex to give back their unwarranted profits is impossible. It would be fair, just, and honest – but impossible.

    But the program CAN end. Hopefully many residents will contact the officials and attend the meeting to say this is what they want.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  21. Cathy says:

    It should be noted, not everyone in this valley drives safely .At the intersection of Lyons, Valley/Orchard Village. There was an accident once or twice a week from people running the red lights on the left turn, in all 4 directions. That intersection was a mess of broken car debris before the installation of the red light camera. NOW everyone stops when they should.The amount of accidents has decreased in this area. And really that is the result we want..less injured people.

  22. Jaime Gonzalez
    Vina Penuela

  23. I disagree. Keep the cameras. At Whites Canyon and Soledad I used to see many near misses and an accident once. I used to have to wait while 2 or 3 cars kept coming when the light turned green. Not anymore. Keep the cameras.

  24. Wow. Glad I took the time to read this. Thank you for all your research and pursuing this. I received a ticket years ago and tried to fight it and was not able to…then my mom got a ticket at the same intersection driving my car when I was sick and she was trying to help me with my kiddos. I had to turn her in so I would not get a second ticket. I will be interested to hear what happens next.

  25. Wow. Glad I took the time to read this. Thank you for all your research and pursuing this. I received a ticket years ago and tried to fight it and was not able to…then my mom got a ticket at the same intersection driving my car when I was sick and she was trying to help me with my kiddos. I had to turn her in so I would not get a second ticket. I will be interested to hear what happens next.

  26. Gene Dorio, M.D. says:

    Some motorists in Santa Clarita drive too fast…especially those with pick up trucks. I don’t see too many of our elder seniors or visitors driving fast.

    With the cameras gone, I believe the number of crashes will increase at some intersections, and they could be catastrophic because of the speed. Will our Sheriff’s be asked to now monitor these intersections? Some drivers, knowing the camera is not there, might “take a chance” and run the light.

    Cameras, whether they are at intersections, in the dashboard of a law enforcement vehicles, or now police body-worn…help to assure accountability and transparency. In this case, it is too bad they were used for profit taking advantage of many innocent drivers.

    What is the solution? I agree…remove the cameras. Do a study whether any intersections are now more prone to accidents. In the meantime, have a higher presence of Sheriff officers close by, and use the city cameras already at some of these intersections to characterize fault should an accident occur. Potential for increased insurance premiums can be a deterrent.

    Technology is wonderful, but should not be used against citizens in this surreptitious manner.

    Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.

  27. Thank you! Y’know, I really could use my $500+ back in total costs that was extorted from me when I was issued a left turn ticket at Newhall Ranch Rd./McBean Pkwy over 4 years ago while the light was “red” for a documented 0.00 seconds, according to the ticket…Grrrrr…0.00 seconds…and thank you for proving what I’ve been saying all along, that the intersections with cameras have shorter yellows (better for entrapment, thus more $$ for the city, courtesy of Redflex…).

    • msc545 says:

      I wonder if it is possible for people like Teresa Bruno to sue the city and Redflex in small claims court and recover her $ 500 she was defrauded of ? I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know, but it might be worth doing if it’s possible. I personally lost no money since I threw the tickets in the trash where they belonged. Legal, safe left turns do not deserve tickets.

  28. So glad your addressing this situation…I received 2 of these. ..both times I was behind a bus…you can’t see the light behind a bus…I would have contested both in court…but was told you forfeit your right to traffic school if you lose your case…the second one I went ahead and threw myself on the mercy of the court…the man who evaluates the film was in court…he actually said it was down to 1/10 of a second and he debated to let it go…but in the end he made a case of it…that 1/10 of a second cost me over a thousand dollars…I got lucky and the judge allowed me to go to traffic school even though I lost my case…my husband had recently passed away…so with only my income and a thousand dollar lose…I was unable to pay my rent…and I’ve been homeless ever since…high price to pay…for 1/10 of a second…

  29. Got one 5yrs ago. Never paid it. Dmv won’t hook them up with your license since there is no proof of service.

  30. Thank you Arthur. I agree with you 100%

  31. msc545 says:

    People drive horribly in SCV, and the clowns that drive pickup trucks are the worst of all. However, that said, that is still not a reason to leave the cameras in place so Arthur Edwards can be on his way a few seconds faster. Arthur, just drive carefully. We all need to do that anyway.

  32. James Farley says:

    On 3/24/15 at the Santa Clarita City council Meeting the Council voted 3-2 for option 3. The contract with Redflex will expire on March 31 and the cameras should be down a few weeks after that. While so many have been unfairly caught in this abusive trap, there will be no more. Careful though, the cameras are still on and operational through 3/31/15. While I believe that it would now be especially wrong to issue additional tickets since last Tuesday’s decision, I’m not sure they won’t. I will check with the Sheriff.

  33. Jim F. Mong says:

    Back east where I live, Redflex was much more generous with the splitting of the loot. Our local bureaucrats negotiated a 50/50 split of the fines collected with our city government. I understand your City Fathers negotiated a 30/70 split with the 70 going to Redflex. Not only does your council pick your pockets but they also do it to their own disadvantage. Perhaps its time for a change at the top.

    Our whole state recently dumped cameras as a nuisance (and perhaps one of our legislators got caught with a ticket)

  34. msc545 says:

    I am trying to understand why it is that people post the names of others (usually their relatives or friends) on here and nothing else. Can anyone explain this practice?

  35. msc545 says:

    I am also trying to understand why it is that people repeatedly click the “add comment” button when by now everyone should know that the site is sort of slow to respond. Give it about 30 seconds, and wait for the page to refresh. If it does not, THEN click the button again. If you don’t do this your comment gets posted as many times as you’ve clicked which is annoying.

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