LA extends contract with Arizona contractor

The Los Angeles City Council today extended a contract with an Arizona-based company that operates Los Angeles' red light cameras, in spite of last month's approval to boycott business dealings with the state.

"The boycott never intended to impede public safety,'' Councilman Richard Alarcon said. "It intended to, if anything, send forth a message to Arizona, but not to the negative impact of the people of Los Angeles.''

The council voted 13-0 to extend the city's contract with American Traffic Solutions by 10 months at a cost of $2.3 million, to prevent having to switch off the red light cameras while the city is in the process of soliciting bids for a new contract.

The contract with ATS had been scheduled to expire June 30.

The decision came after Sgt. Matt McWilly, photo red light coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department, testified about the program's effectiveness.

"Every year, the photo red light program has showed a decrease in red light-related traffic collisions, with a 40 percent reduction in 2008,'' he said.

During the two years prior to the installation of 32 red light cameras across the city, there were nine traffic fatalities at those intersections, five of which were caused by drivers speeding through a red light, McWilly said.

Since the red light cameras were installed, there have not been any red light-related fatalities at those intersections. "That's a testament to the cameras,'' McWilly said.

Nevertheless, several council members criticized the current contract, noting that a report from city's top budget analyst had described the red light cameras as a money-losing venture.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana estimated the city would have to pay $3.9 million a year to continue operating the program, while expecting to collect $3.6 million in revenue during the same period.

McWilly said Santana did not include expected revenue from unpaid citations.

"We have approximately $50,000 (in) unpaid citations still out there that haven't been paid by traffic violators, which would raise approximately $5.9 million for the city of Los Angeles,'' McWilly said. "That would bring the program from being in the red to being right in the black.''

The fine for a violation captured by the red light cameras recently went up by $20, to $466. Of that amount, the city collects $150; the rest goes to the state of California and Los Angeles County.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said the LAPD appeared to be doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to enforcing red light violations, and questioned the need to continue working with a contractor.

"Looks like we're doing all the work,'' she said. "They install the cameras and monitor them, but then it's up to us to look at (the images), issue citations. If we have to appear in court, we do that. At the end of the day, we're giving money to the state, giving money to the county, and we're losing

"Do we actually need a third person involved in this?'' she asked. "Why do we need somebody in Arizona or anywhere else?''

She also questioned the LAPD's conclusions about public safety at the intersections with red light cameras. She noted that over a certain time frame, some of the intersections experienced an increase in traffic collisions after the cameras were installed.

The council approved the economic boycott of Arizona on May 12 in response to the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which has not yet taken effect.

The law gives Arizona law enforcement personnel the power to check the immigration status of suspects they have stopped for other reasons, if there is a reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally. It specifically bars law enforcement from racial profiling.