EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version said the contract with American Traffic Systems expires in September, as Mayor Larry Kramer said last week, however, the city has not decided yet whether to renew. Also, we have added new information about revenue generated from the fines in prior years.
The amount of money the city makes off of fines from people who run red lights outfitted with cameras has gone way down, city officials report.
But it’s not that you’ve been obeying traffic laws any better. It’s that more of the scofflaws are fighting the tickets in court, said City Attorney Omar Sandoval.
“What people are figuring out is that if you hire an attorney, you’re going to get your case dismissed,” Sandoval told the council.
San Juan Capistrano has two intersections that use red-light cameras: the Ortega Highway-Del Obispo Street intersection and the Del Obispo-Camino Capistrano intersection.
At last week’s City Council meeting, Cindy Russell, chief financial officer for the city, reviewed a number of revenue sources as part of a financial report to the council.
For the record, sales tax receipts are up, property taxes are flat, “transient occupancy” fees (i.e. hotel taxes) are up thanks to a sooner-than-expected opening of the Residence Inn, developer permit fees are down and fines from the red-light cameras have plummeted, she said.
A report the council received said fines are down $280,000 this year alone.
The peak year for revenues from this system was in 2009-10, totaling approximately $420,000, according to Lt. John Meyer, chief of police services for San Juan Capistrano. Last year, that figure dropped by $100,000, to about $320,000.
Sandoval said that judges at the have required that a prosecutor be present for any disputed ticket because an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy cannot put himself on the stand for self-examination.
Because running a red light is a violation of the California Vehicle Code, prosecution would normally be the responsibility of the Orange County District Attorney’s office, Sandoval said. But officials there said they would not be able to take on the workload and have offered to “deputize” the city attorney’s staff.
However, “the cost of having our office prosecute is not worthwhile,” Sandoval said.
Ticketed drivers, on the other hand, have a bigger financial incentive to hire an attorney because they are looking to get out of paying the fine, plus the cost of traffic school, Sandoval said.