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Palm Coast Council May Consider Red-Light Camera Referendum, But Wants More Talk

| May 6, 2014

Camera wags. (Kevin Baird)

Camera wags. (Kevin Baird)

“I don’t think we’re going to solve the red-light camera issue here tonight,” Palm Coast City Council member David Ferguson said Tuesday evening. Because of various controversies, revelations and angry words from two local judges, red-light cameras have focused the attention of courts, residents and city officials with increasing intensity over the last few weeks, putting in question the system’s legitimacy, and perhaps its existence.

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But Ferguson was right. There were no dramatic moves Tuesday evening among council members or from the city manager. A dozen members of the public addressed the issue, as did City Manager Jim Landon, as did most of the council members and the mayor. But in the end, the most conclusive action was that the council should talk the matter over more thoroughly at a workshop soon.

There’s a move afoot in the city to place a referendum on the November ballot to remove the red-light cameras from city intersections. It’s not clear whether the initiative will make it to the ballot: the petitions are due May 19 at noon. If it does, the question will be in voters’ hands, and the results will be binding: the city will have to follow voters’ wishes—removing the cameras if a majority demands it, keeping them if not.

The most that council members were interested in is exploring that approach, including having the council itself initiate a referendum, in which case the council would have to have its ballot language drafted by June 20.

“I need to know more about what the city can and cannot do,” council member Bill McGuire said. “I see the red-light camera program as something that’s good for our citizens. I supported it before, I support it now. I will not support unilaterally cancelling the contract with ATS,” because he doesn’t want a fatality on his conscience. On the other hand, he said, “I would support a referendum. If the majority of the electorate in the city of Palm Coast say we don’t want them and we don’t care what happens once they’re gone, then I can abide by that.”

A dozen people addressed the council on the red-light cameras. Several people spoke in favor of the cameras, saying they know how to follow the law. But a clear majority spoke either against the cameras or in favor of a referendum that should settle the matter. Critics were especially displeased with the fact that the majority of the revenue generated by fines from red-light tickets goes either to the state or to the private company that runs the system./ Palm Coast gets a small share.

Diana Lebrun, “I used to be that person who sat back and said hey if you don’t want a red light violation, don’t run a red light,” Diana Lebrun said, “but there’s so much dissention over this subject, I think it’s holding us back. The only way we can solve this is to put it on the ballot, put it on a referendum.”

One man couldn’t understand how he had received a red-light violation since he was adamant that he did not run red lights, though he had an inkling that it could have been a turn on red that triggered it. In that case, he had no idea what was an admissible turn on red and what wasn’t under the law.

Alan Peterson, the former Flagler County commissioner and Palm Coast City Council member—it was on his watch that cameras were first approved, in 2008—said that when he first approved the cameras, it was for a small number: 10. Since then the number has grown fivefold. He suggested conducting more rigorous studies on existing cameras to decide either whether they are achieving their aim (to make intersections safer) or whether they could be removed from specific locations—but not from all locations.

Landon said the cameras have achieved their goal, if that goal was to change drivers’ behavior: the number of citations has gone down over time, since the cameras were first installed in 2008. That strongly suggests that drivers are more careful. In 2008, for example, 10 cameras issued 12,000 citations. In 2013, 43 cameras issued 25,000 citations, Landon said. This year in four months, the annualized is a little over 13,000 citations over the year. “The number of people running red lights in Palm Coast has gone down substantially,” Landon said.

That said, the city manager added, the program, when it started, was to be a simple, like an elaborate parking ticket. It was to send a citation out, cost $125, none of it going to the state. “When the state as I would call it hijacked the program” and changed it, it caused “a real bite” on the system. Now the citations can be transferred to the state system, converting tickets into traffic tickets that can also cause drivers to lose their driver’s license, in addition to bearing the cost of much higher fines than the original $158. “That was never the intent,” Landon said.

The system has been especially complicated by the conversion of tickets into state-issued traffic citations, which involve state courts, and have now angered the clerk of court, who claimed last week in a much-publicized court hearing before County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens that the city was improperly dismissing—or telling drivers that it could dismiss—traffic citations that have converted into state-issued tickets. Landon stressed that, contrary to what the judge said last week, the city does not stand to make more money when tickets are dismissed, as opposed to when they go through the court system.

All of that has led Landon to start discussions with American Traffic Solutions, the private, Arizona-based company that runs the cameras in Palm Coast at no cost to the city, to potentially alter the existing contract with ATS, which runs through 2019. The talks are producing various options. “We’re not ready to discuss what those are,” Landon said, though they would entail such options are fewer cameras, ending the contract or shortening the term of the contract.

Ideally, Landon said the first violation should be a warning, at no cost to drivers. But the state doesn’t allow that option. For now, the city is trying to “come up with a solution that reduces the divisiveness of this issue,” Landon said—a divisiveness that creates the impression that the system is unfair, and undermines its effectiveness.

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31 Responses for “Palm Coast Council May Consider Red-Light Camera Referendum, But Wants More Talk”

  1. Nancy N. says:

    Landon’s argument that the city is driving safer because tickets have gone down since 2008 is a complete red herring.

    When the cameras were first installed, many many people got tickets for perfectly safe rolling right on red turns. They did not realize that the cameras would ticket them for those completely safe turns. Driver behavior in the city has now adapted to that reality. We aren’t driving safer. We are driving to accommodate the cameras. There’s a difference.

    A much better statistic to evaluate would be the accident rate at those intersections. That is a direct measure of whether the cameras have improved safety. Yet somehow, no one from the city seems to ever bring that up. Could that be because it doesn’t support their argument to keep the cameras? Let’s put it this way – if the accident rates at those intersections had dropped as dramatically as the ticket rates, don’t you think they would shouting those numbers from the rooftops?

  2. It would be simpler and less expensive if the council simply ended the program to go along with the majority sentiment that it should be ended. But going to the referendum is fine too. Ticket cameras have lost 27 of 30 votes so far. Once citizens understand the true revenue purpose and result of ticket cameras, they have voted them out 90% of the time.

    When the state passed the authorizing bill for the cameras in 2010 that gave the state 52.5% of the total revenue without paying a penny of the high camera costs, cities should have smelled a very pungent rat. The state is in the business for MONEY, just as the camera companies are. The cities get the crumbs, and nobody cares the OPPAGA report showed a statewide crash rate increase of about 12%.

    The cameras must be taken down, by whatever means are required. If Palm Coast still has a red light violation rate issue, it is almost certain that simply adding one second to the yellow intervals will reduce the violation rates by more than the cameras ever achieved.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  3. Steve Wolfe says:

    Let’s just stop contracting out our local traffic enforcement to a for-profit firm that isn’t even part of our community. Although patrol officers cost significant bucks, the traditional way avoids the negative issues surrounding the cameras. But we all have to be ready to deal with what comes next.

  4. Dennis McDonald says:

    If as the council claims it was all for Safety then the members should have required the Sheriff to implement a plan NOT the Zoning enforcement officer. Our Sheriff by law is responsible for the UTC. The City has a $2.5Million per year carrot {contract] to negotiate with the Sheriff, use it on our behalf.
    What I find amusing is the CC acts like this is the only place that has this problem, so what do others do ? Safety could be increased by going to a ALL red cycle between changes. Simple, effective but there is NO Cash incentive ! Where’s Landon going to get his cash now, because we’re watching the Utility Enterprise Fund closely so he can’t raid it again.
    The fact that NYC has fewer RLC’s than Palm Coast is telling. Yes the CC wanted to be punitive and greedy till Tallahassee, our representatives that are even more greedy cut them out. Now they are taking the heat for a bad decision and getting little return on INVESTMENT, Ooops… SAFETY !

    Opinions from the New Palm Coast.
    Dennis McDonald

  5. Darby says:

    What ever happened to a Policeman on the corners watching the intersections ? Get rid of the camera’s and put more Police back on the streets..

    • blondee says:

      Darby would you rather receive a ticket from an officer or a camera? From an officer, it’s a moving violation on your drivers record = higher insurance costs plus points. Not to mention the outrageous cost involved in hiring and training and paying for new officers.

      • Nancy N. says:

        Blondee – Red light camera violations also become Uniform Traffic Citations that go on your driving record if you don’t pay them immediately or choose to contest them. This is part of the extortion plan being run by the city. If you don’t pay the $158 (or whatever it is fine) immediately, or choose to exercise your right to contest the ticket, it turns into a UTC that goes on your driving record and the fine goes up to something like $400. If that isn’t an extortion racket, I don’t know what is.

      • Nancy N. says:

        Also, if you don’t pay a UTC, a warrant can go out for your arrest and your license can be suspended. All because a camera didn’t like the way you made a right turn on red. At least a police officer can be reasoned with and has common sense. Also, there’s no warnings from the camera – a police officer might let you off with one on the rare occasion you might actually get pulled over (versus the 24/7 camera coverage).

        • Steve Wolfe says:

          Hey Nancy, did you know that the cameras initially generate a Palm Coast “code violation?” Kind of like letting your grass get to tall. So you have to take it up with the code enforcement people, which is the kangaroo court that Judge Craig deposed. By State law if you don’t pay the code violation it automatically becomes a UTC, which generates lots more heartburn and expense for the violator. Apparently the city was telling violators that their UTC could be dismissed by the city, which upset the second Judge. I wonder, could the usual government expansion use cameras to cite citizens and generate more revenue for littering, speeding, jaywalking, or any other civil infraction—-oops, I mean code violation?

  6. Gia says:

    They’re always will be red light violations. But driver riding a red light & causing an accident & be responsible for it should have driver license remove, fine & car impound. A lot of cities does this.

  7. PJ says:

    Blah Blah Blah!

    Palm Coast just wants to continue the Con like anyother good con-artist by changing the way it looks. A con-artist will say and do anything to get what they want you to believe.

    The red light cameras are a revenue stream. If you look back at some of the Flaglerlive articles you will see how Palm Coast said “it would be hard to replace the revenue.”

    Palm Coast reacts with a volley of public meetings until the residents stop going to the meetings. Then it is forgotten and not spoken about.

    Once again the con, change it up in some way shape or form.

    Next the con is set up for a mid week workshop when nobody can make it. With very little said about the workshop. Where are those outspoken Tea Party people that have something to say all the time now?

    The conartist will do the hocusspocuss and the red-light cameras will be here till the end of the contract as part 3 of the Con will be ATS won’t budge under the terms so we would be stuck with them.

    I can see the Con a coming.

    Hey, ATS just think of the folks here in Palm Coast as that 88 year old Senior Citizen your boiler room operation cold calls and you say ” I have a wonderful investment in some Nevada land you may interested in for your retirement I just need a $158 deposit” “For now.”

    Creepy Wouldn’t you say?????????? ATS already Conned the Management of Palm Coast……..

  8. Rob says:

    Did any of the citizens elect the first councilor who is quoted in this article? I know I didn’t.

    Read what Bill McGuire is saying and give it some thought.

    His assumption is that red light cameras stop fatal traffic accidents. How many fatal traffic accidents occurred at traffic light intersections prior to the installation of the red light cameras? What were that accident statistics at all intersections prior to the installation of red light cameras? The all-knowing city of Palm Coast and its councilors can’t answer those questions because they have no statistics.

    He doesn’t want a fatality on his conscience. He is reaching. In the past he was bemoaning about the loss of revenue if the cameras were outlawed by the state. Get one story and stick with it. I thought the tea party wanted less government intrusion. At least that’s what he said when the community in Pine Lakes protested the building of a gas station at the corner of Pine Lakes Parkway and Wynnfield Drive and asked for the city to intervene.

    The only reason the town council is addressing red light cameras and feigning that they care about public opinion is that two jurists showed them to be a; pompous, arrogant, obdurate collective. A group who continues to play the public safety card when all else has failed and more than likely have violated the law with their latest underhanded trick. Even in the face of draining millions of dollars out of this community they are intransigent with this red light camera dogma.

    Alan Peterson, one who is partly responsible for this fiasco, wants to spend more of the citizen’s money on a study. He should have been “studying” before voting to place these one flash bandits in the community. Every one of them saw and sees these devices as cash cows.

    I signed my petition to place this issue on the ballot and I pray that the drive is successful. Then we won’t have to contend with those speaking with forked tongues. One way or another they are going to bend to the lobbying of ATS.

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      I could grasp that there may be 10 intersections where there were sufficient numbers of accidents to warrant some response to increase safety, but 47? I am betting there hasn’t been 47 total traffic fatalities in Palm Coast, or else not one at each of those intersections over the years. I don’t know how all the conclusions were reached, or what anyone’s true motive was. But….always the but….be prepared for the lousy driving habits in this town to resume to pre-cam levels if they are taken down.

  9. Ron says:

    As I’ve said before, I do not have a problem with the red light cameras. I find that if I pay attention when approaching an intersection, and do the speed limit, I have plenty of time to react to a light change and stop safely.

    Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing anyway????

    Be that as it may, there is certainly a lot of consternation surrounding these cameras that I believe is coming from a very vocal MINORITY of residents. So let’s put it on the ballot, and see how the majority feel about the matter.

  10. Matt Christopher says:

    It is my understanding these cameras where brought to this community and installed under the guise of Public Safety? If that was truly the case, then they ought to have been placed only at intersections that were identified through statistical analysis (traffic studies) of the intersections that are infact the highest risk.

    What Palm Coast leadership allowed however, is a carpet bombing approach. This clearly is not a Public Safety Issue, it is a Fund Raising Issue. A steath tax that has brought dissention to the community. It has also brought negative press to the community, and driven away consumers to areas that do not have these devices.

    Another issue is Mr. Landon’s recent comment. He stated he is communicating with ATS representatives to see what the city’s options are? Well, Mr. Landion as the city’s administrator who is in charge of managing the city’s business. Tbe contract negotiated between city and ATS should clearly have a termination clause. Any contract negotiated in good faith ought to clearly spell out how to terminate an agreement. To imply now that you must ask them what options the city has sends a clear message to taxpayers. The message is. The city has a very weak case if any and the leasership negotiated these rights away. In other words to get out it is going to cost tbe city which means taxpayers money!

    If not you would have that contract in hand, highlighted and for all to see. Full transparency.

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Sorry you missed the report that Jim signed away that clause and stuck us with the cameras through 2019. Bon appetite.

  11. General Elector says:

    Last night the city council doubled down on the Red Light Cameras. They alluded to the possibility of allowing a referendum with weakened language on the ballot this November. Even with the measure all it would appear their intent is to hammer to the public the message that if we get rid of the Cameras, the city would need to pay off the Camera company to remove them.

    This payoff is due to the council removing the clause in the contract allowing them to exit with no fault or penalty when they renewed it in 2012. Yes they actually did that. They actually signed a contract that punishes every single one of us financially, if we remove the cameras. This is highly unusual in government contracts.

    We knew at that time that the reason for the removal of the clause was to prevent citizen action such as our petition. The camera companies play this game well. Their belief is that citizens would rather keep the cameras than pay them off.

    Don’t worry! we already had our response prepared :). If the Camera company want to hold our little town as a financial hostage then our only choice is to expand our petition statewide. In order to avoid the financial penalty to the city we need to make the cameras illegal statewide. Statewide action would void the contract. If the Camera company does not let our little town out of their clutches then they will lose the entire state.

    Today we begin drafting the petition to END RED LIGHT CAMERAS IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA.

    Join us in the effort to remove them at the link below:

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Or maybe just pay for the cameras. That’s a possible out.

      And the cameras are losing support everywhere. Another commenter posted that something like 27 out of 29 votes were against the cameras. The next legislative session is supposed to take up Travis Hutson’s bill to ban them statewide.

  12. Freddy says:

    We the so called vocal minority would like to see accident statistics since 2008 through today that proves the cameras were installed to reduce accidents. If the accidents in the intersections did not decrease or if it increased because of rear end collisions then these cameras were all installed for the money.

  13. confidential says:

    Without telling further…today I am driving out of Home Depot and need to make a left on the light by PC Parkway east and loaded with heavy sod..I see the green and coming at normal speed I am faced with a “short green left arrow and instant yellow”…as the intersection is sooo big I said I am not going to make it because I know how short those yellows are intentionally, in that busy corner…so I stopped…the cars behind me almost hit me! So is avoid a ticket and risk a crash often. Added to the stress we endure going thru those never ending lights in every corner with a camera each sucking up our tanks. Welcome to Palm Coast the tolls land were you pay as you go, so other dudes can rake the profits.
    I had enough when in the first year of this cameras I racked a ticket in the same intersection that showed same color and model of my SUV side view and I could not tell who was the driver. As back then I trusted a bit more our city government and was very busy with work and business trips thought not sure was me and my car I went ahead and paid it not to have to get points etc. in my license or have to go to driver class. I for sure have known if I run a red light…and was not really convinced. Lately I been wondering even more reading these unfairness and even not long ago a woman given double the cost of a fine versus a man that committed the same violation by that kangaroo money hungry city court.

  14. Anonymous says:

    How come no one in the media is questioning why Landon doesn’t know the terms of the contract and in particular the early termination claus and length of the contract? Isn’t he the city manager who is sucking up hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars annually? Please…..

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Did You Know—-that Jim Landon signed away the cancellation option when he extended the RLC’s with ATS through 2019? Maybe he needs to recover that clause somehow. I can’t imagine it makes ATS very happy. They were counting on our money out there in Arizona for years to come, and it’s nice to be able to count on a revenue stream when you have to pay dividends, ya know?

  15. chip hayes says:

    If you notice the intersections by schools and government offices DO NOT HAVE red light cameras? How could this happen? I have seen two slight rear end accidents that I believe would not have happened if the first driver had not be scared to make the yellow light….

  16. DanK says:

    I was ticketed for making a right turn on red after stopping. I now will not make a right on red under any circumstances. Of course, drivers behind me get angry, blow their horns, even pull around me. Is thi8s really what you want to accomplish with these cameras?

  17. Bob Hamby says:

    We’ve been told by PC Council members that Landon operates not independently but under the direction of the City Council. Exactly when did the City Council direct him in a public meeting (Sunshine Law?) to explore options with ATS?

  18. Bob S. says:

    The tallk about Getting Cameras will continue untill Election Day then back to normal if the same crooks gey back in office. Vote them out of office PLEASe.

  19. Merrill Shapiro says:

    Where were our elected representatives to Tallahassee–Travis Hutson and John Thrasher– when the state “hijacked” the funds from this program? Do we send them to speak for us or to rob our city of much needed revenue?

  20. Knew It says:

    I knew that last week’s story about getting rid of the Red light Cameras was Bologna! The misery continues for all Flagler County Resident and Visitors. I’ll continue to spend my money in either St. Johns or Volusia County for shopping, entertainment and eating out. The anxiety level is too high when driver in PC money traps!

  21. Charles "Bub" Robson says:

    Folks don’t fall for the partial removing of the cameras, all those CASH REGISTER JUSTICE MACHINES need to go now. Those RLC’S have made PC the laughing stock of the entire area. Citizens don’t want them, Judges are questioning them, and myself as a former Police Chief and Road Officer. Many other LEO’S also question how can a Citizen get a Fair shake in court when they cannot confront an eyewitness to the Traffic Infraction? PC leave all those Big City ideas where you found them. Revisit the cameras in about 50 years. Again if the Traffic Violations are rampant hire your own PD and get some Motor Cops on the job!

  22. Charles "Bub" Robson says:

    Folks don’t fall for the partial removing of the cameras, all those CASH REGISTER JUSTICE MACHINES need to go now. Those RLC’S have made PC the laughing stock of the entire area. Citizens don’t want them, Judges are questioning them, and myself as a former Police Chief and Road Officer.

  23. Diana L. says:

    I would like to know the entire history of these cameras. The discussion leading up to initially placing the cameras. Who voted for, statistics before and after ,when cameras were placed and where. The initial contract with the city and the camera company and any other contracts signed since them. Who voted to extend. Revenue generated, suits filed or court decisions about. If a reporter isn’t willing to put this together, where should I start gathering this information ? Maybe someone already has this information or a part of this information. I like having a fact before I make a decision on this. Does anyone have any ideas?

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