Barring anything unusual, red light cameras will be history in Houston, but their effect will be felt for some time.
City Controller Ronald Green said the loss of the devices would amount to a $10 million shortfall in revenues, a sharp decrease that would greatly complicate efforts to close a shortfall that was already nearing $80 million.
“We’re going to have to cut expenses,” he said. “We need to really start talking about the fact that furloughs and layoffs may really be a potential option. … It’s now time for drastic cuts.”
I don’t care to re-litigate the talking point about the cameras being a “revenue grab” – no one’s mind will be changed at this point – but however you felt about them they were a revenue source, and the loss of that revenue has to be made up somehow. I’m not looking forward to seeing how that happens.
Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, said he did not anticipate that the political action committee — backed by the Arizona-based company that runs the city’s red-light camera program – would try to fight the election results in court.
“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We put together an unprecedented coalition of police and firefighters and hospital groups who told the truth. … At the end of the day, the voters got the last word.”
There was litigation filed before the election to prevent the referendum from being on the ballot, as well as questions about the legality of the petition effort. I could not tell from the story where any of that stood, so I sent an email to McGrath to ask. He said that his understanding was that the case had been vacated, and that as of Tuesday night no one had any intention of challenging the result. A statement released by the camera vendor doesn’t give any indication of further action, either. Personally, I’m not sure that the matter should be dropped. I feel like the legal issues that were raised by KHS and by Council members like Anne Clutterbuck deserve some kind of official answer in the event this sort of thing ever happens again. But I understand why no one wants to pursue it. Like it or not, the election was won fair and square, and you have to respect that.
I have to wonder, though, if throwing in a few negative ads with all those “firefighters and doctors telling the truth” might have had an effect on the outcome. McGrath and company weren’t shy about questioning the Kubosh brothers’ financial motives for opposing the cameras to reporters. Given what Controller Green says, it’s not hard to imagine an attack mailer in which said financial interests of “greedy lawyers” are pitched against those of Houston’s taxpayers. “They want to line their pockets while costing you money!” or some such could have been the tag line. It would have been sleazy and hypocritical, of course, and would have drawn the usual tongue-clucking from various media types – yeah, me too – but I bet it would have moved a few votes.
That’s just Wednesday morning quarterbacking, and it’s easy for me to say. A better question is what happens to the cameras now, and what happens if you get a ticket from one before they come down? My guess is that the status quo will remain until Council takes some action to begin the process of removing them. The city could have them turned off immediately, but I don’t think they are required to do so. As long as there’s some sort of good faith, on a reasonable schedule effort to get rid of them, I suspect that would be considered kosher by a judge. So don’t go running any more lights than you would have before.
UPDATE: And here we get some answers.
Although voters abolished Houston’s red light camera system Tuesday, the 70 cameras have the green light to keep recording traffic violations for months as the city weighs a legal strategy for exiting its contract with the firm operating the cameras, city officials say.
Anti-camera activists slammed the delay Wednesday, insisting on immediately terminating the five-year contract — whatever the cost – with ATS, the Arizona firm that manages Houston’s system. The May 2009 contract has a termination clause that requires the city to provide the company with a 120-day notice of cancellation, a period when the cameras will still be in full operation and civil fines issued, according to the city attorney.
“This issue is over, “ said attorney Paul Kubosh, who with brother Michael helped mount the successful campaign against the cameras. “This is not a legal issue, this is a political issue now. The voters don’t care what the price of tea is in China. They don’t care what the contract says. … They want the cameras gone and just pay the damages.“
Apparently, we’re all Veruca Salt now. This just confirms my belief that perhaps the campaign for the cameras should have talked a bit about the costs involved in being forced to remove them.