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Red-Light Cameras and the Enigmatic Jerry Brown

Harris Kenny
February 6, 2012, 4:39pm

Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

California has the most expensive red-light camera tickets in the world - the fine is so steep that one camera in Oakland generates more than $3 million a year - and a Fremont man [Roger Jones] is launching a protest group [Red Light Camera Protest Group] to do something about that…

Anyone in California snapped violating a red light pays a fine of $480, and according to the traffic-watch site TheNewspaper.com, no other jurisdiction anywhere has a tab that high. The second-highest fine in the United States is $250, and it is usually more like $100.

The Legislature passed two bills in the past two years that would have reduced the fine or limited the cameras' use, but both were vetoed. When he killed the most recent measure, Gov. Jerry Brown said the matter should be left to local jurisdictions.

The state Department of Finance has estimated that red-light cameras bring in more than $80 million annually to the state and $50 million to cities and counties - and that, Jones and his supporters say, is the real reason they continue to snap away at motorists.

Not all $480 from each ticket goes to the cities or counties that authorize the cameras - more than half goes to the state or to the companies that run the devices. And not all tickets result in convictions.

(HT DrudgeReport)

For more on red-light cameras (or photo traffic enforcement) in Oakland, see the accompanying infographic furnished by the Chronicle here.

The larger storyline that can be teased out of this article is where Gov. Brown stands on the issue of state versus local control. [Note that regarding red-light cameras (above), Gov. Brown vetoed these bills specifically insisting the matter be left to local jurisdictions.]

My colleague at Reason magazine Katherine Mangu-Ward noted last September:

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been dropping some surprisingly sweet vetos recently, including nixing a bipartisan bill which would have imposed a $25 fine for kids who ski or snowboard without a helmet… And he killed another bill increasing penalties for texting or calling without a hands-free device while driving.

These vetoes imply a common sense embrace of local government at the most fundamental level: the individual. This is consistent with the maxim that it’s practically impossible to protect people from themselves.

On the other hand, last fall Gov. Brown signed AB 438, which restricts local governments from making decisions about what is best for their own libraries. As I note in a September 2011 op-ed in The Orange County Register (available here), the bill drew scorn from across the political spectrum. For example, Dan Carrigg of the League of California Cities spoke out against the bill saying, “We hope the governor will veto the bill, since he has talked a lot about the importance of retaining local authority.”

Anyone familiar with Jerry Brown’s lengthy career in politics knows it’s difficult to pin down his political philosophy, and the issue of red-light cameras appears to only complicate things further.

For more on red-light cameras in California see my previous posts about Los Angeles (where the City Council voted last summer to phase out the program entirely) here and here. Similarly, lawmakers in Colorado are debating legislation that would allow the state to override local control by banning red light cameras entirely, which I cover in a previous blog post here


Harris Kenny is Policy Analyst


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