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Old February 18th, 2010
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Default California: City Refunds $1.4 Million in Illegal Traffic Camera Tickets

The city of South San Francisco, California last week admitted it had issued red light camera tickets under an ordinance that had never been properly ratified. As a result, every ticket, worth $446 each, that the city allowed American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to issue since August 2009 was invalid. Over 3000 citations and accompanying license points will be refunded.

On January 27, the city council voted to rectify its mistake and prepare to renew the contract with ATS that expires in June. The council portrayed the ratification issue as a technicality, but the city faced a far more serious error in that its contract contained so-called "cost neutral" language allowing ATS to be paid on a per-citation basis. The San Mateo County Court has ruled that such provisions were unlawful (view decision). The city has also quietly re-adopted a contract amendment removing this explicitly illegal provision.

Although the ratification may be a technicality, several members of the public told the council that the city and its vendors were exploiting technicalities to ticket drivers, as the vast majority of citations involve right-hand turns on red or cases where the vehicle entered an intersection a fraction of a second after the light turned red.

"I have not yet gotten a red light violation for a right turn, but I know quite a few people who have," local resident Ginni Tilden said. "I find this very intimidating, along with all the people I talk to. It seems just a matter of time before we all get one.... But we were told these were for getting people blatantly running through a red light."

The city's focus on technicalities has ensured the program would have no impact on safety, as verified by preliminary accident statistics at the city's two camera-equipped intersections.

(Ed: emphasis added)

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