By Scott North and Rikki King
Lynnwood officials now say it’s time for the community to really discuss the city’s revenue reliance on controversial traffic-enforcement cameras.
The talk comes as City Council members examine Lynnwood’s shaky finances. They are considering the millions of dollars that come in through camera-generated tickets and weighing a proposed contract to keep the devices scanning for red-light runners and school-zone speeders for the next five years.
Many citizens have made clear they can’t stand the cameras. Some at Lynnwood City Hall say they hear more often from people who think they are a great idea, and that dissent is coming from a “vocal minority.”
At a council workshop last week, city leaders said they don’t want to take action on the cameras without first finding a way to gauge public opinion.
They talked of community outreach meetings, mailers and comment cards. Nobody brought up letting voters weigh in with an advisory ballot.
In every Washington community where voters have considered the cameras — Mukilteo, Monroe, Bellingham and Longview — the devices were resoundingly rejected.
Although a recent state Supreme Court ruling made clear that binding citizen initiatives on red-light cameras are verboten, the 5-4 ruling said nothing about advisory votes.
Indeed, the justices who signed the minority opinion lauded the way Mukilteo handled its camera controversy — a vote that was followed by elected leaders paying heed to the will of the people.
Elections can be costly. If Lynnwood decided to stage a special election solely to resolve the camera question, the city likely would be billed upwards of $40,000, said Garth Fell, elections manager for the Snohomish County auditor.
However, if Lynnwood timed a special camera vote to coincide with a scheduled election this year, they could expect to pay less than $15,000, Fell said.
If they waited until next year, when the city already has election matters noted up, adding the camera question to the ballot could occur with no additional cost, he said.
Mayor Don Gough correctly recognizes that Lynnwood must figure out what needs to be discussed regarding enforcement cameras.
Unfortunately, the city’s record of public statements to date hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence.
Remember back a few months ago when Lynnwood officials were claiming the cameras had created an outbreak of safety? Remember when they suggested money pouring in from tickets was just a happy by-product? Those talking points, cribbed largely from camera-company marketing campaigns, weren’t convincing then and likely wouldn’t be now.
That’s particularly true after admissions by city officials that Lynnwood has become dependent on the millions of dollars of citation revenue the cameras bring in and has scant data to show the devices play a role in preventing injuries or saving lives.