LYNNWOOD — The city’s reluctance to verify its claims that traffic-enforcement cameras improve safety could land before a federal judge.
An engineer from Lake Forest Park is threatening Lynnwood with a class-action lawsuit. Ian Jordan, 39, recently filed a claim with the city, seeking up to $5 million. He is demanding the city refund anyone who has received a camera ticket since June 2014.
Lynnwood spokeswoman Julie Moore on Monday said the city could not comment on the merits of a pending claim.
Jordan was issued a $124 red-light ticket in July. He contested the ticket, and paid a reduced $85 fine. He alleges that the city has been violating the state law that governs the use of enforcement cameras. His read of the law is that a clause added in recent years requires Lynnwood to post annual reports of collision and citation data from intersections with cameras.
Cameras and crash data are a sticky combination in Lynnwood.
The city’s red-light camera contract with an Arizona vendor is up in November. A temporary extension is likely, pending a City Council vote expected in the coming weeks.
For months, the council’s finance committee has been wrestling with questions over whether any local crash data should be considered before the contract vote. Some council members have repeatedly asked city staff for numbers.
At a public meeting two weeks ago, Assistant City Administrator Art Ceniza encouraged the committee to rely instead on national numbers pulled together by auto insurance companies. Lynnwood’s data is limited because of changes in how it was collected over the years, the committee was told.
The use of enforcement cameras has been allowed in Washington for more than a decade. State lawmakers passed a bill in 2012 that amended the rules for local governments. They wanted in part to make sure that cities and counties using the cameras couldn’t tinker with yellow light lengths to generate more tickets. They also directed that annual data reports be available online.
The law has various exemptions and requirements, some of which depend on city size. It says that starting in 2013, the annual reports should include “the number of traffic accidents that occurred at each location where an automated traffic safety camera is located as well as the number of notices of infraction issued for each camera.”
Jordan, who works in aviation electronics, alleges the city hasn’t posted a report since at least 2014.
He says that on July 6 he and his wife were going home after a date night at Alderwood mall. He was headed to southbound I-5 via 36th Avenue W.
“It was 9 p.m. There was no real traffic,” he said. “I just mistimed how long it would take me when the light turned yellow and getting across the line.”
Jordan says he was past the line by about four inches. The scanned photos he shared are too blurry to draw conclusions.
Alleged violators also are sent a link to a short video of the camera’s footage.
Jordan contested the ticket in Lynnwood Municipal Court in late September. He said he told the judge his theory about the data reporting requirement. Jordan claims the judge said that argument had been floated before and wasn’t relevant. The fine was reduced, but the judge’s comments “triggered me to think that’s really not fair,” Jordan said.
Jordan then hired Seattle attorney Jay Carlson.
“We need to run a system that’s fair for everybody,” Jordan said. “They’re fining people to hopefully change behavior. If they want to enforce the laws, they need to be beholden to them as well.”
Carlson said the annual reports are needed so people can make informed judgments about the cameras’ impacts on safety and city revenue.
“It’s not a technicality,” he said. “It’s a very important principal.”
The city has 60 days to respond to the claim before a lawsuit can be filed.
Lynnwood uses cameras to issue about 24,000 tickets a year for red-light running and speeding in school zones. The school-zone speed cameras are under a separate contract that ends in June 2018.
From 2007 through 2015, the city had collected $19.2 million in gross camera revenue. The city’s proposed budget for 2017-18 assumes that revenue will continue.
The Daily Herald has obtained citation and revenue numbers over the years through a series of public records requests. The last collision data study by the police department, in 2011, was inconclusive about safety impacts. Another such study is ongoing.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.