One year into a $12 million photo-enforcement program to catch Los Angeles motorists who run red lights, fewer than half of the cameras are in place and revenues from the program are falling short of city projections. Of 32 planned cameras, just 13 have been installed since last April because of engineering and other setbacks. And of $124,000 in photo-related fines collected last year, city government got less than half under a state law that gives some of the revenue to state and county coffers even though they contribute nothing to the expensive camera system. The city budgeted $2.2 million in camera citation revenues for fiscal 2007, but officials acknowledge they may not meet that, and the general fund could end up subsidizing the program. As an unofficial June deadline nears, officials have voiced concerns about the program, saying city staff and contractors have not provided fiscal and performance reports. “We’ve asked for timely reports, and we haven’t gotten them,” said City Councilman Dennis Zine, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who now sits on the Public Safety Committee. “We want (the cameras) up and operating to save lives. “They said this was the best system. … We really trusted the cameras would be in focus, that they would capture the front and back license plates. I’m very disturbed if this doesn’t measure up.” The issues are the latest in long-running efforts to establish a red-light photo-enforcement program at the city’s most dangerous intersections. The first attempt ended when a contract with ACS expired amid complaints that its technology wasn’t digital and did not photograph rear license plates. In late 2005, the City Council awarded a $12 million three-year contract — with two one-year extensions — to Nestor Traffic Systems. Glenn Ogura, principal engineer with the city’s Department of Transportation, said a push is on to try to meet the June 30 deadline. He said problems with the system and cameras have been minor, such as engineering issues that forced the department to substitute two intersections for two in the original plan. He said the problems haven’t been reported to the City Council because they were being resolved with the contractor. “You don’t want to tell council members you’re having problems with the program,” he said. “You’re supposed to work through them with the contractor so that you get them resolved.” Ogura acknowledged the council needs an update, and work still needs to be done with the contractor to improve the system. City Councilman Bernard Parks, who chairs the Finance and Budget Committee and serves on the Transportation Committee, said revenue is not a driving force behind the cameras. But he said updates are needed on the construction schedule, budget and performance to determine if the cameras are improving safety. “There needs to be a debate,” he said. “Is the system functioning as it should?” City officials said last week that Nestor Traffic Systems’ technology is better than a previous contractor’s, despite early problems in focusing the cameras and getting flashes to work properly. “We got off to a rough start, but it’s getting better,” said Nestor Traffic Systems project manager Jennifer Rehoreg. “We had to switch out a lot of cameras.” Officials said they hope to have the 19 remaining cameras in place by the end of June, although only three intersections currently are ready for installation. Ultimately, eight intersections in the San Fernando Valley will be equipped with the cameras. So far, the nearly dozen cameras in use citywide captured 5,822 violations during the last eight months of 2006, according to police records. Just 54 percent — or 3,150 — resulted in citations either for running a red light or not coming to a complete stop before turning right on red, records show. Sgt. Matthew MacWillie, who oversees four LAPD officers who review the cases, said the citation ratio is higher than the previous vendor’s 45 percent. He said officers review footage from the digital cameras, which lock onto fast-moving vehicles and take three to five seconds of video. Officers review the video to establish whether a vehicle was behind the crosswalk line when a light turned red — the criterion for a violation. The city gets $157 of every $381 fine for running a red light and $58 of every $159 fine for making an illegal rolling right turn on red. The LAPD’s MacWillie said the program is projected to become cost-neutral after all 32 intersections are activated. And even though the city may end up subsidizing the program in the short term, assistant City Administrative Officer Ellen Sandt said the effort was intended more to improve safety than generate revenue. “We have a $6 billion budget so $2 million out of $6 billion is not a big revenue stream,” Sandt said. “It’s designed to prevent traffic collisions at the intersections. … How do you value avoiding an accident?” MacWillie said collisions have declined 5 percent to 10 percent at intersections where the cameras are in use. “Basically it boils down to when people know there’s a photo red light in the neighborhood, it changes the behavior of people who travel to and from work. … It has an impact on the motoring public,” he said. Ogura said officials are planning to report on the system to the City Council as more cameras are installed. “We’ve told the council this program is not intended to be a revenue generator; it’s all about safety,” Ogura said. “We’re in it to save lives.” — Beth Barrett, (818) email@example.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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