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Napa council wants proof of red-light cameras' effectiveness

Napa council wants proof of red-light cameras' effectiveness

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Napa’s remaining red-light traffic cameras – unpopular with drivers, but supported by law enforcement – will continue to operate through August, while the Napa Police Department finishes a study on the equipment’s pros and cons.

The Napa City Council voted Tuesday to extend its contract with Australia-based camera operator Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. and its Arizona subsidiary on a month-to-month basis through the summer, while the department wraps its analysis.

This is the second contract extension granted by the City Council. The first was a one-year extension approved in June 2013.

“We are looking at expanded data,” said Napa Police Chief Richard Melton. “First off, we wanted to see collisions at the intersections that have these cameras — both before and after they were installed. I think the data will show some pretty positive results. Secondly, Redflex has had some issues over the past few years, and we need to make sure we are doing our due diligence on the contract.”

The problems Melton referred to stem from allegations of bribery and corruption among the company’s former leaders. In January, a fired Redflex executive named Aaron Rosenberg filed a civil defamation claim against Redflex, accusing the company of firing him to hide a tradition of bribing government officials.

Redflex eventually lost its largest American contract with the city of Chicago, which the company said could cost it about $17 million in revenue. Other towns across the country have abandoned the Redflex ship as well, including cities in Arizona, Louisiana and California. The nearby city of San Rafael in Marin County cancelled its Redflex contract in March.

Despite the company’s issues, Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said Thursday that Redflex officials met with the department and assured city officials that the issues were regionally isolated to the Midwest and East Coast states.

“Anytime an accusation of illegal acts comes up, it brings great concern to us,” Troendly said. “But it’s our understanding that the company took steps to safeguard against future corruption and bribery. Their assurances put us at greater ease.”

Troendly also pointed out that Redflex’s legal issues came about when executives were signing up new accounts, not dealing with existing ones.

“But we’re always open to looking at the possibility of another vendor, if the City Council wants us to,” he said. “At this point though, our main goal is to figure out if the cameras are increasing safety and are financially self-sustaining.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members said they hoped the matter would progress quickly.

“I feel like we’re a little behind the game in analyzing Redflex,” said Councilman Scott Sedgley. “I’m willing to support a month-to-month extension, but I want to see a comprehensive study. I’m just not convinced that Redflex is the way to go.”

Mayor Jill Techel, who voted against the contract Tuesday, renewed her objection to the use of red-light cameras, which she originally lobbied against in 2008 when the city was first exploring the technology. Her opposition has always been that the nearly $500 tickets charged to violators are exorbitantly high fines. The state sets the ticket price independent of local cities.

According to past reports prepared by the Police Department, the red-light traffic cameras are proven to increase safety. The department’s ongoing study, set to be released next month, should present conclusive data to the council, as well as explain whether the program is financially sustainable. Troendly said the department hopes to present their findings to the City Council at the Aug. 19 meeting.

Three intersection in Napa have red-light cameras: Trancas Street/Big Ranch Road, Imola Avenue/Soscol Avenue and Highway 29/Highway121/12 west of the Butler Bridge.

The cameras were removed this spring from First Street/Jefferson Street for the construction of a turn lane to support the planned conversion of First in downtown to two-way traffic.

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