Encinitas postpones debate on red-light cameras

A debate on whether to continue operating Encinitas' red-light cameras at two major intersections in town has been postponed to later this summer.

The new contract with the city's longstanding red-light camera provider was scheduled to appear June 20 on the City Council's consent calendar — a collection of items that are considered routine in nature and are typically approved as a group with one vote.

But that's been rethought, City Engineer Chris Magdosku said on June 19.

Instead, the camera issue will first go before the city's Traffic & Public Safety Commission for a public hearing later this summer, possibly at the commission's special July 23 meeting, he said. Then, the City Council will likely consider the issue this fall, he added.

June 20's council meeting was forecasted to run late into the night because there's expected to be hours of public testimony and council discussion on a controversial list of sites where high-density housing could be allowed.

However, that wasn't the reason the camera contract was pulled from agenda, Magdosku said. Instead, the decision was made at June 18’s city staff meeting to send the camera item to the Traffic & Public Safety Commission to allow extra debate on the issue, Magdosku said.

"By going to through the commission, it allows it to go through a more public process," Magdosku said.

There's been a recent movement across California to terminate what are called "photo enforcement" systems where cameras mounted on poles capture pictures of vehicle that run red lights, and then the drivers are sent tickets. Cities in the region that have ended their red-light camera programs in the last five years include El Cajon, Escondido, Oceanside, Poway, San Diego and Vista.

"There were a variety of reasons, including a marked reduction in violations creating a financial burden on cities, little or no conclusive evidence of a reduction in collisions due to the presence of the cameras, public referendums to ban red light cameras, and Los Angeles County courts not reporting citations to the California State Department of Motor Vehicles," a new Encinitas city staff report notes.

Three coastal cities — Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach — have kept their cameras.

Encinitas first entered into a contract with its red light camera provider Redflex in February 2004. Unlike some cities, which put the cameras at many intersections, Encinitas only installed them in two places. Both intersections were picked because they had high rates of red-light runners and were busy, multi-lane locations where traditional police enforcement of red light violations was challenging, city officials and sheriff's deputies have said. One is at El Camino Real's intersection with Encinitas Boulevard, and the other is at El Camino's intersection with Olivenhain Road/Leucadia Boulevard.

During the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, which began last July, the city's red light program has issued 324 notices to red-light runners. In the prior fiscal year, that figure was 348. This fiscal year, Encinitas is expecting to generate more than $232,000 in ticket fee revenue from the program.

"The cost associated with operating of the program will be completely covered as long as the annual revenue generation is approximately $195,000 or higher," the city staff report notes.

That figure includes cost of the camera contract with Reflex as well as the annual expense of a part-time officer who processes the citations and appears in court as needed.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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