Mukilteo repeals traffic camera ordinance

MUKILTEO — Traffic safety cameras aren’t coming to Mukilteo any time soon.

Mukilteo City Council members on Monday voted to repeal the ordinance authorizing the cameras in the city.

Even though the issue was not on the agenda, council members reversed their previous decision to send the ordinance to the Public Safety Committee for additional review. They also voted 6-1 to take the law off the books.

“I want to put this behind us,” said Councilman Randy Lord, who introduced the motion to repeal the law. “I don’t want to keep fighting a dead fight.”

More than 70 percent of voters here decided in November to make it harder for the city to install traffic safety cameras, which would be used to monitor drivers and issue tickets for certain misdeeds. An initiative sponsored by activist and Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman placed restrictions on installing cameras.

The initiative requires a two-thirds vote of the council and a public vote before any cameras can be installed. It also limits traffic-camera fines to the least expensive traffic ticket, currently $20.

The council had been treating the initiative as an advisory vote, contending that some of its provisions should be decided by a legislative body, not a public vote. For example, state law leaves it up to a legislative body — in this case the City Council — to decide the cost of a ticket, not the public at large, city attorney Angela Belbeck told council members Monday.

The council on March 21 decided not to act on the measure until the state Supreme Court decides legal challenges to the initiative. The hearing is scheduled for late May.

The court also may rule on whether traffic safety camera regulations are appropriate for the initiative process.

“The city looks forward to final resolution of the matter,” Belbeck said.

Initiative sponsors wanted to ensure a fair and open process if officials in the future want to install traffic safety cameras, said Nick Sherwood of Puyallup, who co-sponsored the initiative with Eyman. Until council members fully embrace the initiative they are not giving the voters what they demanded, he said.

“I think this sort of language hides the insidious nature of what they are really doing,” he said. “Why not put the initiative into law? Not because they have to; because it’s the right thing to do.”

The council on Monday split 5-2 to draft a new traffic camera ordinance, this one incorporating the restrictions outlined in the initiative.

Council President Richard Emery and Councilman Tony Tinsley voted against drafting a new ordinance.

“The initiative was only incidentally about red light cameras. It was about telling the council how it can and cannot act, which I think is not appropriate,” Emery said at the meeting.

Council members will need to pass another ordinance to make their decision to repeal the law official. They are expected to do that at the next council meeting April 18.

Tinsley was the lone council member who voted against repealing the traffic camera law that touched off the controversy.

“I know you want to do something that is popular, but I think it’s premature to throw out the hard work of our staff,” he told the council Monday. “You are bringing out a shotgun to shoot a mouse. You are overreacting.”

The law authorizing traffic cameras called for installing red-light cameras at the intersection of Mukilteo Speedway and Harbour Pointe Boulevard. Council members also wanted to install speed-monitoring cameras in front of Olympic View Middle School. Traffic safety in front of the middle school remains an issue, and council members decided Monday to look for cheap solutions to address that now that traffic cameras are off the table.

Opponents have argued, however, that cities use traffic cameras as a source for revenue. The city of Lynnwood, for example, has drawn as much as 11 percent of its revenue in recent years from traffic cameras.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, kyefimova@heraldnet.com

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