Solana Beach council votes to extend red-light camera contract

Red-light cameras will remain in place at three locations in Solana Beach for as long as eight more years, under action taken by the City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

An item that authorizes the city manager to extend the contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. to operate and maintain the three red-light cameras for five years, plus three additional one-year extensions, was approved by the council on a 4-0 vote, with Mayor Mike Nichols absent.

The item was on the consent calendar, which includes routine items that typically are passed as a group with no council discussion. No members of the public spoke on the issue.

Council member David Zito asked staff to bring back the issue on a future council agenda to discuss the efficacy of the red-light cameras, which take photos of motorists who run red lights, potentially resulting in tickets costing $490.

The three red-light cameras, at the intersections of Highway 101 and Lomas Santa Fe (southbound); Lomas Santa Fe and Solana Hills Drive (northbound); and Lomas Santa Fe and Solana Hills Drive (eastbound); have been in place since October 2004.

City staff recommended extending the contract and keeping the red-light cameras in place, citing safety reasons.

“The program discourages drivers from running red lights and protects the safety of the general public,” the staff report said. “Both City Staff and the Sheriff’s Department continue to believe these systems provide a significant safety enhancement to the city and recommends that City Council authorize the City Manager to execute the revised agreement with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc.”

The council agenda included a brief report based on traffic statistics provided by the Sheriff’s Department, which showed the number of accidents at the Lomas Santa Fe/Highway 101 intersection declined from 21 in the four years prior to the installation of the cameras, to 15 in the most recent four-year period, 2012-2016, a drop of 29 percent. At Lomas Santa Fe/Solana Hills, accidents declined from 18 to 7 during similar four-year periods, a 61 percent decrease. Those declines occurred even though traffic volume at both intersections increased over the past two years, said the report.

Some disputed the results reported by the city. Jay Beeber, executive director of Safer Streets L.A., a public policy and research organization, submitted a study his group conducted on the impacts of red-light cameras in Solana Beach regarding traffic safety.

“While it is commendable that the City of Solana Beach has attempted to improve roadway safety through the use of automated enforcement, our analysis shows that there is no clear evidence that the program has made any difference in the number of red-light-related collisions that have occurred at enforced locations or citywide,” the report said.

But Councilman David Zito said after the meeting he’s convinced the red-light cameras are working.

He voted to extend the contract for the red-light cameras, but wants the council and public to talk about the effectiveness of the cameras, and for the city to provide more data to the public.

“Based on the data I’ve seen I’m of the belief that the cameras improve public safety in Solana Beach,” he said.

If new information emerges when the item comes back to the council for discussion, he said, the council has the option to cancel the contract with Redflex with 30 days notice.

While he does believe the cameras are effective, he said the fine for first-time offenders who run a red light, $490 according to the San Diego County Superior Court website, is “ridiculous.” But he said the city has no control over the fine, which is set by state law.

The city pays Redflex $85,896 annually to operate and maintain the three red-light cameras, according to the staff report, and the agreement allows the cost to go up each year based on the Consumer Price Index, or a maximum of 3 percent.

Solana Beach’s decision puts the city in the company of Encinitas and Del Mar, the only other San Diego County cities to maintain their red-light cameras. In recent years, Oceanside, Escondido, Poway, San Diego and El Cajon have discontinued their camera programs. More than 40 jurisdictions in California currently have red-light camera programs, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Last year, the city received about $315,000 in revenue from the red-light ticket fines, which covers the cost of the contract with Redflex for operating the red-light camera system, plus about another $230,000, said city officials.

But Zito said the money represents only a fraction of the city’s annual $30 million budget.

"(The red-light camera program) is all about public safety,” he said.