LA Stop Sign Cameras Under Increasing Scrutiny

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For the most part, Los Angeles motorists were relieved to see local authorities take down all 32 of the city’s red light cameras after it was proven the traffic enforcement systems had no effect on public safety. But nearby, motorists who frequent any one of three Santa Monica Mountains parks are engrossed in a legal battle over the constitutionality of seven similar systems placed on stop signs at intersections overseen by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA).

The cameras are big-time revenue generators for the authority. Some motorist unlucky enough to receive the standard $175 rolling stop fine automatically issued by the cameras, say the systems – installed on rural, low traffic volume roads – serve no other function than to fill authority coffers. MRCA officials claim that stop sign cameras make the parks safer, though they haven’t offered any hard proof of this, and LAPD data shows no serious accidents at the seven intersections for the past eight years (before and after the cameras were installed).

Michael Goldstein of LA Weekly recently investigated the matter.

Documents obtained by the Weekly through the California Public Records Act show that before the stop-sign cameras arrived on the scene, park rangers working for the authority wrote 315 tickets during all of 2005. Of those, 57 were for failure to stop and most of the rest were for speeding, usually in Franklin Canyon.

In 2008, the mountains authority issued 13,004 failure-to-stop violations — a jump of more than 22,700 percent, thanks to the cameras. In 2009, the number rose again as the authority, acting both as policing agency and jury by controlling the initial stop-sign violation hearing, approved 18,561 such violations.

Today, that money flows like honey to the MRCA, now surpassing $2 million annually and comprising 8 percent of its $29 million budget in 2010…

…Protecting that income has become important to authority executive director Joseph T. Edmiston. In 2010, Edmiston won a special exemption from California law so that the mountains authority — alone among local California agencies — can set its own traffic rules, hold its own initial traffic hearings and then collect the money.”

An appeals court decision last month cleared the authority of entrapment charges, but a class-action suit now challenges the authority’s ability to violate motorists based on photographic evidence that does not show the actual driver. The authority tried to have the case thrown out because of its exemption from Senate Bill 949, a law that prevents municipalities from creating their own courts of arbitration over moving violations and revenue collection. In late 2010, a Superior Court judge ruled that the class-action suit could continue and that the MRCA couldn’t “carte blanche, enforce its own ordinances where those ordinances would otherwise violate the [California Vehicle Code].”

Some argue that stop sign cameras can be legitimately used to increase public safety.

A Florida State Senator wants the cameras to be installed on school buses. The cameras would catch violators who recklessly pass stopped buses as schoolchildren disembark. A school district in Connecticut has already contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems to install and operate stop sign cameras on school buses. Redflex, an Arizona-based company that has diligently lobbied local authorities – predominantly in California and Arizona – to operate stop sign and red light cameras has had a losing streak in court cases that challenge the legality of enforcing traffic violations without a physical, law enforcer witness. A Connecticut law permitting cameras on buses went into effect last July.