NEWARK -- A traffic court on Wednesday ruled that the city of Newark properly notified motorists before installing red-light cameras seven years ago, contrasting a June decision on the same issue, leaving Tri-City motorists and camera opponents in a legal gray area.
Fremont traffic court Commissioner Sue Alexander upheld a ticket issued to a motorist by an automated red-light camera at the intersection of Cedar Boulevard and Mowry Avenue, rejecting the motorist's argument that Newark officials had not properly notified the community about the camera's 2006 installation. Newark officials are hopeful the decision puts the matter to rest, while disappointed anti-camera activists say they are turning to the legislature, hoping a proposed bill, AB 612, will become law and reduce the number of tickets issued.
"(The bill) calls for extending yellow-light times for another second," said camera opponent Roger Jones, of Fremont. "It will put a dent in the income these red-light cameras generate."
The conflict began last month, when Fremont traffic court Commissioner Karen Rodrigue tossed out a Newark red-light ticket involving motorist Keisha Dunleavy, saying the city did not properly notify the community of a red-light camera installed at Cedar and Mowry in 2006.
Jones and other activists said Rodrigue's decision meant that any of the thousands of camera-issued tickets at that Newark intersection should also be ruled invalid, and the fines, which totaled millions of dollars over the years, should be returned to cited motorists.
Newark officials, not surprisingly, disagreed. City Manager John Becker said the city complied with the state's vehicle code in the fall of 2006, when it issued a news release that announced the "specific location of the photo enforcement system and the exact direction of travel."
But during last month's hearing, Newark's news release was inadvertently omitted from its legal file, leaving the city's representative with little more than a 2006 city email that has a mistake involving the direction of the streets.
With no physical proof to support the city's position, Rodrigue tossed out the citation, Becker said. "But I don't think the judge had any intentions of making a blanket ruling," he added. "It was specific to this one ticket."
The two sides' ongoing dispute took a turn in the city's favor Wednesday, when Alexander contrasted last month's ruling and upheld another contested ticket at Cedar and Mowry, one of three Newark intersections in where red-light cameras are posted.
Alexander said the citation was valid because the city offered appropriate public notice at the first Newark intersection to post the camera system in August 2006, three months before the Cedar/Mowry camera was installed.
"I'm very pleased with the ruling, it was what we expected," Becker said. "We knew we had the proper notification."
Since March, Redwood City and Belmont have dropped their red-light camera programs, noting that bribery accusations involving a former Chicago transportation official were leveled recently at an executive with Redflex Holdings, which operates the camera systems. Hayward also dumped its automated ticket system, pointing to a study that shows it doesn't reduce accidents.
The cameras remain in Fremont, Oakland, San Francisco, Millbrae, Daly City and Newark.
Jones and fellow camera opponent Howard Mora say they are displeased but not discouraged by the traffic court's most recent ruling. Mora said he hopes AB 612 becomes law because extending yellow-light times will make local roads safer than automated ticket systems do.
"These cameras are more about revenue than they are about safety," he said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.