The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to terminate the city's contract with a red-light camera vendor that is the subject of a federal bribery investigation, with council members saying the nearly $500 fines associated with red light tickets are an excessive burden on residents.
However, the contract with Phoenix-based RedFlex Traffic Systems doesn’t expire until June, 2015 and city officials said the cameras must stay up until then because they can’t terminate the contract early.
“If it was up to me, I’d get rid of the contract today,” said Councilman Sal Tinajero.
The cameras are placed at 15 intersections in the city, according to a staff report, and the fines bring in millions. But the city has only netted $58,316 on the contract since the 2008-2009 fiscal year, because much of the revenue goes back to RedFlex and the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in personnel costs to run the program.
Nonetheless, cameras will remain in place and citations will continue to be dolled out until the contract’s expiration, according to Police Department spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
“There is a current and valid contract in place that is still enforceable per California State law," Bertagna wrote in an email. "Enforcement efforts will be stopped when the contract agreement terminates.”
While controversial everywhere, the camera systems have been hailed by supporters as effective deterrents to motorists running red lights and causing fatal collisions.
An internal study showed collisions at intersections with the cameras were down significantly compared to those without, according to a report by police Cmdr. Ruben Ibarra.
Between 2005 and 2009, collisions with injuries at photo-enforced intersections dropped by 77 percent, and total collisions were down by 54 percent, according to Ibarra’s report.
A statement from RedFlex Director of Communications Jody Ryan pointed to the police department’s studies as evidence that the council’s decision to end the contract was ill advised.
“Additionally, the Chief pointed out that eliminating the cameras 'could potentially put the commuting public at greater risk.' The decision by the Council to take action without a thorough discussion and understanding of the program's safety benefits is unfortunate," Ryan wrote.
Council members said that the increased safety of the camera systems can be disputed, and the citations are often contested in court.
Meanwhile, RedFlex is at the center of a possible $2-million bribery scandal in Chicago, in which RedFlex officials are alleged to have showered public officials with gifts in exchange for contracts. However, that point did not come up in the council discussion.