(original left untrimmed for x-post to RAD)
"=> Vox Populi ©" wrote:
> Trigger-Happy Traffic Camera to Cost County $500,000
> A judge orders refunds after a crusader against the red-light devices spots
> a timing error.
> By Jean Guccione and Megan Garvey
> Times Staff Writers
> May 16, 2003
> The complaints of a retiree infuriated last year when his picture was
> snapped by a red-light camera set in motion an unlikely chain of events that
> ended Thursday with Los Angeles County ordered to pay at least half a
> million dollars in traffic-ticket refunds.
> And officials say they cannot even begin to guess the final price tag in the
> case of the missing half-second at an East Los Angeles intersection.
> It all began in August 2000, when county officials placed cameras at the
> busy intersection of Whittier and Atlantic boulevards. The cameras - among
> five groups installed at intersections in the county to photograph motorists
> running red lights - were set to catch cars that entered the intersection
> more than three seconds after the signal turned yellow.
> Enter the retiree, one of a small but devoted group of Americans who wage a
> campaign against red-light cameras. His anger over being ticketed at a
> Culver City intersection with such cameras last year prompted him to create
> a Web site devoted to the issue, http://www.highwayrobbery.net.
> In March, he said, he received an e-mail from someone who had been ticketed
> at Whittier and Atlantic and had seen the Web site. The e-mail asked what
> the man knew about that intersection.
> So he went to the scene, armed with a video camera. He taped the light and
> took the tape home for analysis - a practice he said he has used at other
> intersections throughout the area in the last few months.
> He thought he had proof that the yellow light didn't meet state standards
> for length.
> He said he complained repeatedly to the California Highway Patrol. County
> Department of Public Works officials went to the intersection to check his
> claims. They discovered that the light stayed yellow for 3.5 seconds.
> Because the camera started snapping after three seconds of yellow, more than
> half of the 5,063 tickets issued over the cameras' 42 months of operation
> were invalid - the drivers had been "caught" while the light was still
> The whole mess has nothing to do with the complainer's own citation - which
> he is battling on appeal in Los Angeles courts. The man, a retired car-parts
> manufacturer, responded by e-mail to The Times and provided his phone number
> on the condition that he not be named. His Web site is traceable only to a
> San Diego business address that has no listed phone number.
> "I'm involved in a lot of other political issues," he said, adding that he
> didn't want to be distracted from myriad gadfly activities by losing his
> anonymity. He spends every Thursday at the Culver City traffic court
> monitoring cases in the jurisdiction where he was ticketed, he said.
> His complaint led to more than 2,000 traffic convictions involving the
> Whittier and Atlantic intersection being vacated Thursday by a Los Angeles
> judge. An additional 758 pending cases were dismissed.
> Superior Court Judge David Sotelo ordered the county to refund fines paid by
> 2,014 motorists - a ticket that cost $271 before Jan. 1 and $321 since.
> Unfairly convicted motorists may also be eligible to recoup costs for lost
> work time, increased insurance premiums and traffic school, said Miguel
> Santana, a spokesman for county Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents the
> affected area.
> Letters in English and Spanish will be sent to all affected drivers next
> week, and checks will automatically be issued as soon as possible, county
> officials said.
> Opponents of the cameras said Thursday that the latest snafu should serve as
> a warning about the flaws of system billed as a safety tool by government
> officials but seen as simply a revenue generator by foes.
> "Get rid of the darn things and have human beings issue tickets," said Los
> Angeles attorney Michael S. Klein. "You may not even know you got a ticket
> until it comes in the mail weeks later. At that point, there's no way to
> turn to witnesses and ask them if you really did run the red light."
> County officials say no problems have been discovered at the other locations
> where cameras have been installed. The officials are working to resolve the
> fallout from the error, said Warren R. Wellen, senior deputy county counsel.
> "This was human error," said Ken Pellman, spokesman for the Department of
> Public Works. "It was not a malfunction with the system."
I'll bet it was. They forgot to shorten the yellow light. *snort*
> CHP Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick said his officers had stopped issuing
> tickets at Whittier and Atlantic until he could be assured that the
> equipment was working properly throughout Los Angeles County. The cameras
> are now back in use, he said.
> Helmick blames the county for the blunder and said he demanded action: "I
> wanted those [fines] already paid to be refunded. And those not paid, to be
> Santana, Molina's spokesman, said their office was told that the timer was
> initially set wrong by a county worker but that the Dallas-based vendor,
> Affiliated Computer Services Inc., regularly tested the equipment, and "they
> gave us the OK."
Of course they did. The $$ was rolling in, screw whether or not it was
> Molina is asking for a report on the incident.
> "It looks like the responsibility might be on both" the county and the
> company, Santana said. "If the vendor has a role in this, it's our intent to
> hold them accountable as well."
> Janis Langley, a spokeswoman for Affiliated Computer, said her company is
> "collaborating with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and
> the California Highway Patrol to rectify the situation." She declined to
> comment on the cause of the problem or financial responsibility and referred
> questions to the Public Works Department.
> The company has a contract with the county worth $69,000 a month to operate
> the cameras. Before July 2002, Affiliated's contract provided it $35 per
> paid ticket in addition to a guaranteed $56,200 a month.
> This is not the first controversy over red-light cameras.
> In 2001, a San Diego judge threw out nearly 300 citations after ruling them
> inadmissible in court because Affiliated's contract paid the firm a fee for
> each ticket. That gave the company a conflict of interest, the judge ruled.
> San Diego suspended the red-light camera program but recently reinstated it,
> according to Langley, who said the cameras should be back in operation in
> the next few weeks.
> The latest snafu - and the fact that only one person appears to have come
> forward to complain - was no surprise to opponents of such cameras.
> "Police, the government, the towns are all saying red-light cameras are
> infallible," said Eric Skrum of the National Motorists Assn., a drivers
> rights group. "Why is anyone going to take time off of work to fight a
> ticket everyone says there is no way to win?"
> Skrum's group recommends that yellow lights last no less than four seconds
> at urban intersections. The association argues that engineering changes,
> such as increasing the length of yellow lights, provide far greater safety
> benefits than red-light cameras.
> At the Skechers store near Atlantic and Whittier, clerk Sergio Rueda said he
> had wondered about the cameras but never heard complaints in the
> neighborhood. "A couple months ago, it seemed like the cameras went off all
> the time," he said. "Especially at night it would be: flash, flash, flash.
> It would light up the whole store."-
> "Naturally, the common people don't want war;
> neither in Russia nor in England nor in America,
> nor for that matter in Germany.
> That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders
> of the country who determine the policy and
> it is always a simple matter to drag the people
> along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist
> dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist
> dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can
> always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.
> That is easy. All you have to do is tell them
> they are being attacked and denounce the
> pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing
> the country to danger. It works the same way
> in any country."
> - Hermann Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall