Menlo renews contract for red-light cameras
By Sandy Brundage
Breaking away from a trend of cities canceling red-light camera programs, the Menlo Park City Council has decided to renew the town's contract and add a fifth red-light camera.
The vote on Aug. 27 was 4-1, with Catherine Carlton dissenting. The five-year contract will allow Menlo Park to keep its current four cameras — mounted at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, and the intersections of El Camino Real with Glenwood Avenue and Ravenswood Avenue — and add a fifth at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street.
During the Aug. 20 meeting, councilwoman Kirsten Keith said that for her, it was about safety. Red-light cameras correlate to a 13 to 29 percent reduction in all types of injuries, she said.
Council members had questioned why Menlo Park should pay more than other California cities that contract with Redflex. Staff said that jurisdictions that had been clients of Redflex for a longer period of time or had less stringent installation requirements were charged less.
However, the vendor did reduce the monthly fee for existing cameras from $5,397 to $4,950. The new camera will cost $6,200 a month.
The council also voted to retain a clause that requires four out of five votes to cancel the contract without cause, until February 2015, at which point the cost of the installation should be fully amortized. It will then revert to a simple majority vote for cancellation.
Councilwoman Carlton said that she wasn't convinced the cameras were worth it. Her research showed that the cameras increased rear-end collisions, and that lengthening yellow lights by fractions of a second seemed more effective.
"These cameras are not providing safety in Menlo Park," she said.
Statistics per intersection compiled by the police department showed zero accidents at El Camino Real and Glenwood Avenue that were attributable to running a red light, one at El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue, and six at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road during the two years prior to installing the cameras in 2008.
After the cameras were installed, the data show two to three accidents resulting from red-light violations at the Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road intersection, and none at the other locations.
The intersection of Chilco Street and Bayfront Expressway had one fatal collision, in 2011, and a total of 20 collisions during the past five years, although it wasn't clear how many accidents were due to red-light violations.
Mayor Peter Ohtaki had asked staff to compile statistics before the Aug. 27 meeting on how many citations were due to drivers turning right against a red light at each monitored intersection.
Police Sgt. Sharon Kaufman said her analysis showed that 9 to 21 percent of the violations resulted from right turns.
Drivers pay $480 for a red-light ticket if the court does not reduce the penalty. Menlo Park gets about $155; the rest goes to the county and state. The staff report calculates that the program nets the city's general fund about $84,000 per year if all the cameras are operational.
Menlo Park's contract with Redflex contains a "cost neutrality" clause that saves the city from paying the $5,000 to $6,000 monthly fee per camera if revenue from citations doesn't cover the cost.
Fifty-five cities in California, including Belmont, Redwood City, Hayward, Emeryville, Union City and San Carlos, have shut down their red-light camera programs for a variety of factors, such as cost and effectiveness.
Councilwoman Carlton noted that some of those cities paid $50,000 to $100,000 to cancel their red-light camera contracts. She urged the Menlo Park council to delay its vote for six months to research the program's effectiveness.
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