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Palm Coast Suspends Part of Red-Light Camera Enforcement, But $158 Fines Still Being Issued

| November 25, 2014

Pay now, or pay not and gamble: drivers have a choice in Palm Coast when faced with a red-light camera violation. (© FlaglerLive)

Pay now, or pay not and gamble: drivers have a choice in Palm Coast when faced with a red-light camera violation. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast has suspended a key segment of its red-light camera enforcement program pending the outcome of a court case in Hollywood. The city may also ask a judge whether its contract with the private firm running the red-light camera system remains valid, or could be thrown out, again pending the outcome of the Hollywood case. In other words, Palm Coast may find a way out of a contract that otherwise would be in place until 2019.

But the city isn’t at that point yet, and may not even get to that point. Palm Coast hasn’t suspended all red-light infraction enforcement. The heart of the program is still in place, cameras are still flashing, and drivers are still getting $158 “Notices of Violation,” which they are expected to pay.

It’s only when drivers refuse to pay that initial $158 fine and their “Notice of Violation” converts into a $264 traffic ticket administered by the court system that Palm Coast is not enforcing the step, because a court has declared that step illegal. Palm Coast doesn’t issue those tickets. Its red-light camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions, does. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in October ruled that such tickets may not be issued by a third-party vendor such as ATS. They must be issued by a government agency. Palm Coast government does not have the means to take on that responsibility. So it is foregoing enforcement, for now, City Manager Jim Landon told the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday morning.

Drivers could in essence choose not to pay their initial $158 fine and force the “Notice of Violation” to turn into an unenforceable ticket, which the state calls a Uniform Traffic Citation, or UTC. They would not be pursued, for now. But drivers would also be gambling. The fact that the city is not enforcing that segment of the process doesn’t mean that it won’t, in the future, should a court reverse the October decision: the 5th Circuit is, in fact, rehearing the case, and may do just that—or it may reaffirm its earlier decision. No one knows which way the court will rule.

If the court reaffirms the earlier decision, then the drivers who choose not to pay their tickets win: they won’t be prosecuted for the more expensive UTC violation. But if the court reverses, then the drivers are on the hook for the more expensive ticket.

“I don’t want anybody to think that, OK, well, now I’m not going to get a UTC because as soon as the court rules, there is a potential they could get a UTC,” Landon said.

Palm Coast leaves it to drivers to gamble on whether they want to pay their fine and hope that a court case goes their way, invalidating a steeper fine.

Landon and the council discussed the matter for almost an hour Tuesday because of the broad ranging ramifications of that October legal ruling. Several cities in Florida have suspended their red-light camera programs altogether as a result. Many, like Palm Coast, have suspended only the second step. All cities and counties are wrestling with the decision’s meaning because local governments are currently on slippery ground regarding their red-light camera programs. Those governments, should they continue enforcement, could face dire financial consequences should a legal decision finally declare any step of the process illegal, as that would essentially invalidate serious enforcement across the board. Cities also fear, as does Council member Jason DeLorenzo, that they would be on the hook for millions of dollars in reimbursements due formerly penalized drivers should the system be declared invalid. “My whole concern is that we’re going to see a big bill at the end of this,” DeLorenzo said.

So Palm Coast, in Landon’s view, has taken a middle-road approach: “So what we have done, I think, is what’s most prudent,” Landon said, “and that is don’t try to cancel the contract without valid ground, but also take action to suspend that portion the court has said they don’t agree with the process.”

Should the court reverse itself, the old system is back in place: drivers are fined $158, and if they don’t pay, the fine jumps to the higher level, becomes a legal state violation. Should the court reaffirm its decision, Palm Coast will then explore getting out of its contract.

“If the current appeal decision stands, and ATS cannot send out UTCs,” Landon said, “then city council will have two choices. One of them is to amend our contract with ATS and have city staff start sending out UTCs and taking on that cost and that time to abide by what the court ruling is for UTC process. Or, we could say, No, we’re not going to, and stay where we are today. And then, the contract becomes very interesting, because now we’ve got a section of it that no longer is consistent with state law. And at that point, and this is preliminary, but what Robin and Bill [the city attorneys] have advised me is that their recommendation is going to be—based on what they know today, and it could change—is that they would suggest that we take our contract to a judge and ask, do we have a valid enforceable contract, or does this court ruling basically void the contract, and we’d have to have a new contract. The reason why that step is important is because ATS, if we just say no, the contract is null and void because of the UTC, and we lose, we’re talking millions of dollars, tax dollars. So instead of taking that risk, going to the court and saying please rule as to whether or not this contract is valid.”

That would happen only at the completion of the appeal at the 5th circuit court. If Palm Coast were to abort the contract now, it could cost the city between $4 and $5 million.

“I’m uncomfortable keeping the Notice of Violation going without the UTC,” Landon said, “without knowing for sure exactly, making sure we’re meeting state law, we have a valid contract. A lot of those questions need to be answered.”

Click On:

At the start of his presentation, Landon told the council that the original intent of the cameras has been met: cameras have lowered the incidence of tickets being issued by more than 80 percent, compared to when they were first installed in 2007. The issuance of tickets has fallen even in more recently installed cameras, as the two-year trend shows. Landon did not mention that the enforcement criteria have changed considerably in the interim, however, making comparisons of numbers between one year and another somewhat less than apples to apples. And there’s no Palm-Coast specific data on how many people are getting ticketed more than once, or how many are in town as opposed to out-of-town residents. But the trend remains: fewer tickets are being issued.

That being the case, DeLorenzo—long an opponent of red-light cameras—said it may be time to end the re-education campaign. “You’ve shown that for the last three years we’re basically flat, so how long do you have to maintain a program to keep the same results? We don’t run seat belt commercials anymore, right? Everyone wears their seat belt. We are one of the strongest recycling communities in the state. We’ve changed our culture. So how long do we need to maintain our program to keep the culture?”

“The contract was designed to make that decision in 2019,” Landon said. “With the court case city council may be able to make that decision before 2019.”

This morning’s discussion on red-light cameras was significant in another respect: it was the first time the council’s new members, Steven Nobile (who got elected in part due to his opposition to red-light cameras) and Heidi Shipley (who’s hedged on the cameras) could take part. Shipley remained silent throughout. Nobile did not. His concern, aside from the red lights’ grayish constitutional issues, is not the court case or the ultimate validity of the contract. It’s the economic drain effect of the red-light cameras, since 75 cents of every dollar the cameras generate in fines is sucked out of the local economy: most goes to Tallahassee, and the rest goes to Arizona-based ATS and its shareholders.

“Generally we’re looking at $1.8 million this year leaving our economy,” Nobile said.

“And that’s one of the drawbacks,” Landon said.

Steven Nobile. (© FlaglerLive)

Steven Nobile. (© FlaglerLive)

“That’s a huge drawback, because what we’re talking about now is punishing the entire community, not just the person who received the violation. And, we’re not even sure the right person received the violation. We take this from two perspectives. One is, in the context of a constitutional republic where you have a presumption of innocence, where we have the Sixth Amendment where you’re allowed to face your accuser, and then you have from the financial aspect of, we’re talking $1.8 million. Over the next five years, that’s $10 million, plus a multiplier effect which I just read the other day, it was about three times. We’re talking a huge amount of money that’s being taken out of our economy that, like I say, is punishing everyone, not just the violations. And the fact that it doesn’t fall in line with the individual rights that our country is bound on, the fact that you are guilty by association, because we can’t prove who was in the car.” Nobile said he got two such citations “and never ran a red light,” suggesting that two other individuals were at the wheel of cars he owned when the violations took place.

“So at some point you have to weigh the payoff, and this does not, to me, have any value against its negative drawbacks,” Nobile said.

Nobile returned to the same idea half an hour later, when he alluded to a “Hegelian” situation—the first time the German philosopher’s theory of dialectics was ever mentioned at a Palm Coast City Council meeting, and possibly any local government meeting. Nobile meant that the community had gone through the dialectic steps of an argument: the thesis was that the installation of the cameras would make roads safer, the antithesis was the “outcry” the cameras triggered, and “we’ve moved our liberties in a direction not suitable for this country,” Nobile said. “And now we have a new synthesis that is going to start.”

“It’s more Cartesian than Hegelian,” council member Bill McGuire said—an odd rejoinder, since the one thing the red-light camera system has lacked all along is the certainty of agreed-upon facts and premises from which a logical system could be built: the city’s difficulties with the system, whose definitions the Legislature changes compulsively, stresses the point, as did McGuire himself when moments earlier he termed “pathetic” the goings-on at red-light camera hearings.

11 Responses for “Palm Coast Suspends Part of Red-Light Camera Enforcement, But $158 Fines Still Being Issued”

  1. Will says:

    Hegel and Descartes being discussed at a council meeting.

    In which Palm Coast districts do they live and how many votes do they influence? Inquiring minds want to know!

  2. HorseWith Aname says:

    I have been following this case in my spare time, and just like i was telling the wife last week that these red light cameras are unconstitutional due to the way the tickets were being issued, and that a person has a legal defense against them, you just have to fight for your rights !!! As with most other charges civil, criminal and such if you dont assert you rights in court to attest contest such things, by just paying the ticket or accepting a plea bargain you are dong yourself a injustice and the courts are counting on you to do just that. So for those of you who pay no mind to the news this is worth a read looks like they have finally accepted the issues with them. For all of you that have already paid your tickets well you really should know your rights and use them. Now i can not help but to wonder if all those that have paid have any recourse to getting their money back, maybe a class action lawsuit would be needed?

    In addition i would like to say that the timing of the yellow lights is extremely short in comparison to everywhere else i have lived, in my humble opinion this is done on purpose to trigger more tickets, this also results in people slamming on their brakes to not get a ticket, causing excessive wear and tear on the braking system, and who knows how many rear end collisions.

    I am not a lawyer but here is my understanding and what i was taught in drivers education. Once you see a yellow light it is up to the driver to decide wether or not they can stop safely in time, (see above) meaning be able to stop without locking up your brakes or causing a rear end collision or skidding to a astop in the middle of the intersection then backing up :)

    (B.) If you tires are across the white line at the time the yellow or red light is triggered, then you are allowed to continue through the intersection as there is no way you can safely stop in time. This coincides with my comment about light timing, and furthermore the lights are suppose to have a delay set between your red light and opposing traffic green light to allow for such lead way. I have not been able to observe this timing as i cannot be in 2 places atone time. I am almost positive light timing is controlled by the D.O.T regulations.

  3. tulip says:

    DiLorenzo thinks the people have been “reeducated” on driving laws just because more people are wearing seatbelts and the amount of tickets being issued has decreased? People have begun to behave themselves through fear of fines. Take away any and all fines and they will “reeducate themselves” not to do those things, along with continuing to drink, text, etc. while driving.

    Rear end collisions are cause by inattentive drivers, NOT cameras. Pay attention to the road and it’s amazing how a person can see brake lights, if they are tailgating, or coming up on the car ahead too fast.

    There are way to many jerks and selfish people out there who were obeying the traffic rules most of the time out of fear of getting ticket and not because they’ve seen the error of their ways. Rest rest assured, these same people will go right back to being the jerks they were before the cameras and do what ever they were doing wrong just because they can. The accident rate will go back up and innocent people will be the ones to suffer.

    Anyone that thinks people in general will abide by the laws on their own volition has no concept of human behavior.

    Perhaps all cameras everywhere should be removed and then all the criminals and violent people can freely commit their bad deeds without fear of being caught or having their “privacy” invaded.

    Some people think that the cameras are there just for the money. Even if they were, so what? Let those who disobey pay a few more dollars personally into our road systems, etc. via a fine.

    It has been said that Palm Coast loses business and people won’t move here because of the cameras. Well, gee we are increasing in population every year, more and more traffic, new homes are being built, new business are coming in. Sure doesn’t look like a loss to me and I don’t see any slow down in all the other cities and towns in Fl. that have cameras.

    Some said that a certain percentage of money is sucked out of our economy due to tickets. Not as much money is sucked out that way as is sucked out by online shopping and buying products and cars out of our own county.

    I hope this issue can be legally resolved in such a way that we can still have the cameras as I do believe they make for a safer community.

  4. confidential says:

    If the courts deem these cameras process illegal….I will also expect my $158 back! As I could never tell if that in the on line image was my SUV and would not show the driver as was taken from one side and the back. This was several years ago…during the first year of the cameras installed in PC Parkway and Cypress Point. I went ahead and paid…because I was busy traveling for work and didn’t know when I was going to be in town for a court date also didn’t want to risk points in my license.

  5. Seminole Pride says:

    Why are we waiting for a another Florida city ? It is time this city stand on it’s own two feet and make the decision to get rid of them.

  6. JoJo says:

    There has definitely been a temporal change when the light suddenly changes. I have noticed that months and months ago. The light doesn’t suddenly change when you are about to cross the crosswalk into the intersection which proves the timing of the light was sped up to produce offenders or a cash cow. Besides, that’s a lot of money leaving the county which could be spent in Flagler County. There also a black eye to the City of Palm Coast from visitors who come to our beautiful City. Come down on vacation, go home on probation.

  7. tulip says:

    A person doesn’t get points against his license for a camera violation. Also, the picture of the violation shows the license plate so the owner of the vehicle knows it’s his or her car.

    If someone else was driving the vehicle than that person should pay the money to the owner and it is up to the owner to take some accountability in seeing to it that whoever is driving the car better be a responsible driver or he/she doesn’t get to drive it anymore.

  8. Betty Hall says:

    I received a $158 ticket for turning left on pc pkway at cypress point …was behind a semi and couldn’t see light and as he cleared light BAM! Smile ur on candid camera! The truck was clearly blocking my view! Paid it because didn’t want it to jump to $264 !

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    I am thinking that if you automatically believe that most people are irresponsible, “jerks and selfish”, then your negative world creates such bitterness towards your fellow human beings that machines who profit a company in another state, and empty the pockets of our local citizens, seem just fine.

    In my mind, the red light cameras and that process are unjust in many ways:

    1. Machines are legally placed above humans. Think about it, even when a violent criminal act is caught on video, that footage is considered as evidence. . . but, there is NO CONVICTION without “due process”. Where is the appeal process?

    2. THIS IS NOT ABOUT SAFETY! Yellow lights whose timing have been shortened create a GREATER SAFETY RISK! This from

    Florida Officials Shortened Yellow-Light Times to Increase Violations
    Investigative reporter Noah Pransky of Tampa Bay TV station WTSP filed an explosive report about the intentional shortening of yellow-light intervals at red-light camera intersections for the purpose of raising ticket revenue. Pransky noted that of the more than $120 million of photo ticket revenue collected across Florida in 2012, $50 million was directly attributable to red-light camera program operators setting yellow lights too short.

    More Evidence that Longer Yellow-Light Times Has a Positive, Lasting Impact on Safety
    Increasing the duration of the yellow signal at eight intersections in Chandler, Arizona reduced accidents, according to six years’ worth of data collected by the city.

    3. The PROFITS from the increased number of fines primarily go to a “for profit” private company in another state, secondarily to the State of Florida, and then the least amount to our local area. This is a great example of “out sourcing” at its worst!

    4. Well paying, professional jobs are being cut. The human side of police protecting our safety has been greatly diminished, as budgets are slashed. A TAX BY ANY OTHER NAME! Humans use logical judgement based on experience and their assessment of the circumstance and particular situation. . . and then respond accordingly. This is ability is not being programmed into red light machines.

    5. The red light camera system is pushing down the responsibility for red light violation enforcement for children/guests/friends/family/spouses/NEW OWNERS onto the person who happens to be the registered owner of the car. A ticket from a police officer directly to the person driving logically would have much more influence on that person’s driving habits than a fine issued to an innocent owner. In addition, that owner would not be put into the position of possible conflict with a loved one or new buyer of their car.

    It’s time to make the yellow lights LONGER and put well trained “human” police back into the position of interacting with our community and protecting our public safety!!!

  10. Willy says:

    Having been issued one of those red light tickets via camera recently, I can say openly, I refuse to pay the city a dime of that money. Further more, I see it as an extortion of visitors, and citizens alike the city has contracted with a private firm to bilk money out of drivers. The private firms’ goal is profit, not the safety of motorist. If the City truly cared about the safety of motorist it would simply negotiate with the Sheriff for an increased presence of patrol officers in the city. I know the conservative argument would be it would cost more for patrols, but keep this in mind. The city saves a large portion of money by contracting with the sheriffs office, as oppose to operating its own police department. It still would remain cost effective with extra patrols.

    As for my citation, I will spend a larger amount of money to litigate the case with the city through my attorney, rather than pay them the fine. That’s how strongly I feel about the issue.

  11. Andrew says:

    Oh, and to those wondering the federal regulations on yellow lights are no shorter then 3 seconds

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