The Encinitas City Council’s support for cameras that capture images of drivers running red lights at two of the city’s busiest intersections is diminishing.
At Wednesday night’s council meeting, only one council member, Tony Kranz, said he remained a strong supporter of the program. The two council newcomers, Jody Hubbard and Kellie Shay Hinze, both said they had concerns, but might support it because a majority of the city’s Traffic and Public Safety Commission members recently backed it.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Councilman Joe Mosca, who both expressed reservations the last time the contract was debated in August 2018, said they thought the time now had come to end it.
The council had been asked by the city’s traffic engineer, Abraham Bandegan, to decide whether to extend the current 18-month contract with camera company provider Redflex. Instead, the council unanimously agreed to direct Bandegan to obtain more information about Redflex, about other camera providers, and whether there were other options beyond using cameras to reduce red light-running behavior at the two El Camino Real intersections where the cameras operate.
Encinitas is one of only three places left in San Diego County that still use red-light cameras to capture photographs of drivers and send them tickets. Del Mar and Solana Beach have kept their cameras, but cities that have terminated their camera programs include Escondido, Oceanside, Poway, San Diego and Vista.
There are red-light cameras in Encinitas at two El Camino Real intersections, the one at Encinitas Boulevard and the one at Olivenhain Road and Leucadia Boulevard. The Encinitas Boulevard cameras were installed in 2005, while the ones at the other intersection went in a year earlier.
The city’s mayor, who said last time Redflex’s contract was up for a vote in August 2018 that her support for the cameras had begun to wane, said Wednesday night that it was time to pull the plug.
“I don’t support continuing this program,” Blakespear said, noting that many other cities have taken their cameras out and she believes they had good reasons for doing so.
The data on whether the cameras actually reduce traffic accidents is uncertain; the cost of a ticket -- nearly $500 -- is so high it’s “fundamentally unfair to the poor” and leaving the cameras in when most other cities are not sends a message to visitors that Encinitas is an “unfriendly” place, she said.
Mosca, who supported a shorter term for the camera contract in 2018, said most of the tickets appear to be going to frustrated drivers who are trying to quickly make left or right turns at the two heavily congested intersections, rather than people who are driving straight through. Resolving the traffic congestion issues might be a better use of the city’s time, he said. Also, he added, he doesn’t believe the cameras are decreasing the number of collisions at the intersections.
“I just think we should have a more solid case that these are actually making a difference,” he said.
But Kranz said he considered the red-light cameras to be an “important part of our public safety” program. Echoing the words of Peter Kohl, the chairman of the city’s Traffic and Public Safety Commission, Kranz said there was a great benefit in having a camera enforcement system because it operates 24 hours a day and is far cheaper than putting officers at the intersection to nab red-light runners.
He added that he thought the right-turn drivers who roll through the intersection were every bit as dangerous as the people who go straight through, saying the right-turn folks could hit a pedestrian stepping off the curb to cross the street.
Before the council members began their debate, they heard from several people who have attended many city meetings on the issue over the years.
“I have been in favor from the beginning and have not changed my mind,” Kohl, the traffic commission chairman, said.
Kohl, who also serves on the Sheriff department’s Senior Volunteer Patrol, said the cameras were an affordable enforcement option, and if they’re removed, accidents caused by red-light runners will increase. He’s heard from deputies that’s what happened in Vista, he said.
Encinitas resident George Hejduk told the council that it’s been 15 years since he first started speaking out against the cameras, calling his campaign to get them removed an “ongoing lesson in frustration bordering on a fool’s errand.”
He urged the council to rid the city of its partnership with Redflex, saying the number of people running the red lights is insignificant and hasn’t changed much since the program started.
— Barbara Henry is a freelance reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune