June 20, 2008
More red light cameras in the works

Among other things related to the budget Wednesday, City Council approved a request to identify more intersections for red light cameras.

Councilman James Rodriguez asked for the budget amendment, arguing that red-light cameras are good sources of revenue, and the money can be used to put more police on the streets.

The administration agreed with the proposal, as did all council members except Mike Sullivan of District E (Clear Lake and Kingwood). The vote asked HPD to identify 50 new intersections, which would each have a few cameras. The total number of new red-light cameras would be about 125.

HPD should return to the council with the new locations within two months, according to the amendment.

Council Member Rodriguez had originally asked for 200 more cameras, so this is a scaled-down version of that request. As for the revenue question, we've already seen a decrease in the number of citations being given at the intersections that are currently camera-enabled. That's a trend I would expect to continue, and to occur at any new intersections as well, so I'd be very careful about basing any future expenditures on camera monies. The city of Dallas learned a harsh lesson about that recently; let's not follow that example.

Putting this another way: It's fine by me if the cameras generate revenue because of a large volume of red light runners. I'm perfectly happy to see those people get stung for putting other people in danger. If the revenue plateaus and eventually declines because people are running fewer lights than before, that's fine by me as well. If we wind up spending some money to maintain cameras at certain intersections, instead of the cameras paying for themselves, because they've demonstrated they have a positive effect on safety at those intersections, once again that's fine by me. What I don't want is for the city to game the system by reducing yellow light times or whatever in order to maintain a projected revenue stream that's now falling short because drivers have wised up. For that reason, I'd prefer that the city view any revenue they get from these things as found money, and not a reliable source. So far, I believe the city has acted properly.

As it happens, if the Kubosh brothers get their wish, that would be a moot question.

Bail bondsman Michael Kubosh and his attorney brother Paul are looking to force a citywide referendum on the cameras.

"Let the citizens of the city of Houston decided whether or not they want this red light camera scheme," said Michael.

His brother calls the city's program dishonest.

"They're lying to the public. They're saying this is about public safety," said Paul Kubosh. "If they would just come out and say, "We want your money because we want to spend it the way we see fit."

"I wouldn't say fraud. But they're lying to the public."

It may not be until March before any referendum could be put before voters. A state law prohibits a measure that has failed in a previous election to be brought back before voters for 24 months.

The last attempt to let the voters decide the fate of red light cameras went in favor of those who support the program. This year's election falls on Nov. 4, just a few days shy of 24 months.

Well, they didn't get what they wanted from the courts, so why not go for a referendum? It's certainly possible they might win - I've not seen any public opinion data on the cameras, so this is very much an open question. I'd assume it would be next May for the vote, not March, since March is only a uniform election day in even-numbered years, but whatever. If they can get the sigs, then let's vote on this and be done with it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 20, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles