The city pays Redflex about $26,000 a month to operate the red-light cameras at four intersections in Menlo Park: the intersections of Ravenswood Avenue and El Camino Real, Valparaiso Avenue and El Camino Real, Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, and Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street.
The agreement was originally set to expire at the end of August but was extended to the end of October. The contract came up again at the council's Oct. 23 meeting. Staff had initially recommended that the council approve a two-month contract extension and discuss whether to renew the contract at its Dec. 4 meeting.
But there are bigger questions of whether the city should continue to contract with Redflex specifically, or continue its red-light camera program at all, which the council plans to discuss when more data is collected within the six-month extension period. At that point, the city will have given other red-light camera operators the opportunity to bid on the contract, so council members will have information on whether there are lower-cost options.
Opinions about the red-light cameras and the vendor varied on the council.
Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she has "been railing against Redflex for years and years and have not liked this contract, and I am delighted — delighted — to hear that my colleagues are in agreement with me on reviewing this company."
"I don't want to do business with Redflex," said Councilman Ray Mueller. "I'd like to do business with a different company, if possible."
Councilwoman Kirsten Keith said she thought that the red-light traffic cameras are "useful tools to help with people running red lights," and expressed interest in other companies or technologies for enforcement.
Police Chief Dave Bertini noted that if the city opts for a different vendor, there could be additional costs associated with paying for new camera technology. The benefit of continuing to work with Redflex is that the cameras are paid off by now, so the city might be able to negotiate a less-expensive contract renewal, he said.
In public comments and emails to the council, several people expressed reservations about the city continuing to do business with Redflex, and raised the question of whether the red-light camera is an effective law enforcement tool or just an easy way to generate revenue. Others said that traffic enforcement at red lights promotes safer driving.
Cherie Zaslawsky wrote in an email to the council, "This company has a terrible track record." Later, in person, she urged the council to cancel its contract with Redflex.
Redflex was involved in a large bribery scandal at City Hall in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. A former Chicago City Hall manager who oversaw contracts with the company was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after receiving vacations, up to $2,000 for each camera installed and other lavish gifts from Redflex, according to the Tribune. In 2017, Redflex agreed to a $20 million settlement with the city of Chicago.
James Walker, executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation, in September sent an email to the Menlo Park council urging its members to end the city's contract for red-light cameras.
In the email he argued that people don't like the cameras; that voters generally don't support them; that they boost profits, not safety; that longer yellow lights are more effective to increase safety; that most red-light cameras end up fining drivers who make slow rolling right turns or who enter the intersection less than 1 second into a red light; and that yield fines that are very burdensome to lower-income citizens. Tickets for such violations typically cost about $500.
Jen Wolosin of Parents for Safe Routes said at the council meeting that she saw a cyclist almost get hit by a car turning right at a red light and favors red-light cameras. Adina Levin, a member of the city's Complete Streets Commission, said she didn't know about the vendor, but noted that there aren't enough police officers to enforce safe driving at every intersection and favored the cameras to promote pedestrian safety.
An effective solution?
Currently, about 40 cities or jurisdictions have red-light cameras in California, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A number of California cities have discontinued their red-light camera programs, including, in 2013, Belmont, Redwood City and Hayward.
Whether red-light cameras work was a question raised five years ago when the last contract came before the council. Statistics per intersection compiled by the police department showed one accident at El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue that was attributed to running a red light, and six other accidents at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road during the two years before the cameras were installed in 2008.
After the cameras were installed, the data shows 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 has seen a total of 20 collisions during the past five years, although it wasn't clear how many accidents were due to red-light violations.
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