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L.A.'s red-light camera program exempted from Arizona boycott

The City Council temporarily spares the program, operated by a Scottsdale-based company. But not everyone is convinced that it's worth keeping.

June 24, 2010|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles' red-light camera program was temporarily exempted Wednesday from the city's contracting boycott of Arizona prompted by that state's new immigration enforcement policy.

City Council members, noting that the Los Angeles Police Department backs the photo enforcement program as a public safety matter, voted 13 to 0 to extend a multimillion-dollar agreement with Scottsdale-based American Traffic Solutions.

The existing contract with the company, which operates cameras at 32 intersections, would have expired next week, shutting down a traffic program that catches tens of thousands of red-light violators a year.

Lawmakers had little appetite for disrupting the much-debated program. Most council members appear to support the cameras, which police say cut red-light-related accidents 9% overall at intersections where cameras were installed.

Councilman Tom LaBonge strongly backed the department, citing an LAPD report that no deaths tied to red-light-running accidents have occurred at the 32 intersections since the cameras were activated.

If the cameras were shut down and someone was killed at one of the intersections, Councilman Richard Alarcon warned, "the media would have a field day."

But some members questioned the cost, legal footing and effectiveness of the enforcement tactic in light of plans to issue a new contract next year that would add cameras at more locations.

The LAPD's own statistics show that half of the 32 photo-enforced intersections have either had no change in red-lighted-related accidents or an increase, said Councilwoman Janice Hahn. "That's not a very good record," she said. And some of the city's worst intersections for traffic safety don't have cameras, she said.

She and Councilman Paul Koretz pointed to a study by the city's top budget advisor finding that Los Angeles' share of ticket revenue generated by the cameras falls about $300,000 short of covering payments to American Traffic Solutions and other costs to run the program.

"Is there any way for us not to lose money?" Koretz asked, citing the city's budget problems.

The bidding process for the new contract, expected to be awarded next spring, could become further entangled in the boycott issue. Both the existing camera vendor and a top competitor are headquartered in Arizona.

The council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last month agreed to halt most travel and contracts involving Arizona after that state approved a law requiring police to check the immigration status of those they lawfully stop and subsequently suspect of being in the country illegally.

Los Angeles officials say the action will encourage racial profiling and violations of constitutional rights, a charge Arizona's governor and other supporters of the law deny.

It is not yet clear what other contracts might be affected by the boycott and how many additional exemptions might be sought.

A total of 25 contracts were tentatively identified as tied to Arizona firms, and seven of those could be terminated, no longer used or rebid, according to Miguel Santana, the city's chief administrative officer. These include a vendor that inspects cranes and construction lifts, and a firm that provides brooms for street sweepers.

The remaining agreements, including one to maintain and repair LAPD Taser guns and another to support Fire Department rescue dispatch operations, may require legal reviews, analyses of the costs of replacing the vendors or exemptions from the boycott. Officials said those evaluations are not yet complete.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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