Lynnwood Council signals shift on traffic cameras

LYNNWOOD — The city’s relationship with traffic-enforcement cameras isn’t nearly as cuddly as it used to be.

For the first time Wednesday night, the new lineup of Lynnwood City Council members invited the public to share questions and comments about how the city uses the cameras and whether it should continue to do so.

Each council member also took a few moments to share his or her own views on the city’s controversial enforcement-camera program.

One new councilman, Van AuBuchon, gave the cameras a strong endorsement in the name of safety. Most others, though, admitted to having mixed feelings.

Several said they want their city to be safe — and for people to follow traffic laws — but they feel the cameras have given Lynnwood an unfriendly reputation that hurts local businesses. They said they’ve heard from dozens of people who have stopped coming to Lynnwood because of the cameras.

“I just don’t think the school-zone cameras and the red-light cameras are doing Lynnwood a favor in terms of our image,” council vice president Kerri Lonergan-Dreke said.

Several council members also said that if they turned off the cameras, the loss of ticket revenue would mean additional cuts to programs and services in an already-squeezed city budget.

The cameras in 2011 brought in $2.22 million through nearly 23,900 violations.

Wednesday’s discussion was in sharp contrast to last spring, when Lynnwood police and many other city leaders insisted the cameras were all about safety.

Off-duty and plainclothes on-duty police officers were present at Wednesday’s meeting. Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough was not.*

Instead, the meeting started with a brief introduction by Council President Loren Simmonds, and then a roughly 40-minute video of pre-recorded speeches from Gough and city officials from police, public works and the municipal court. The speeches centered around the history of Lynnwood’s camera program, how the technology works and how violations are processed.

The video didn’t include any statistics about whether the cameras are having any effect on limiting accidents in Lynnwood. There also was no mention of how many low-speed right-turn violations are ticketed versus violations for drivers who blow through red lights going straight or turning left.

An hour into the public forum, people were given the chance to comment.

About 50 people attended. Only a handful chose to address the council members.

Those who spoke seemed equally split in their opinions about cameras.

Many said they wanted the cameras to stay in Lynnwood because they feel the devices improve safety and traffic conditions and punish traffic offenders.

Many others said they weren’t convinced that the cameras prevent or reduce collisions, and that they question the motives of the city and the camera company, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, in continuing the program.

Council members were long ago expected to renew the lucrative camera contract for five years but have signed multiple temporary extensions instead. The latest expires in November.

The feedback from Wednesday night will help the council members take “a fresh look” at the program as they move forward, Simmonds said. He’s the only current council member who was serving in 2006 when the original ordinance allowing the devices in Lynnwood was approved.

“We obviously know that the system is not perfect,” he said.

The council is not bound by the actions and decisions of past councils, Simmonds said.

“We’re trying to listen,” he said. “This is only the first step.”

Simmonds also stressed that the population in south Snohomish County is growing rapidly. That growth may only worsen Lynnwood’s traffic congestion woes, he said.

“The solution is not one we can expect to be simplistic,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Correction, June 18, 2012: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that no police officers were present.

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