Vote is boon to camera foes

MUKILTEO — The vote to limit the city’s power to install traffic enforcement cameras is already sending ripples beyond this city of 20,500.

Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman now says he’d like to have a public hearing before the city goes through with a plan to install cameras in front of two schools.

He said the overwhelming approval of the anti-camera measure by Mukilteo voters influenced his decision.

“That to me speaks volumes,” Zimmerman said Friday.

Even before the issue arose last week in Monroe, officials believed the Mukilteo vote could set off bigger ripples in other cities considering the cameras.

“I believe Mukilteo’s always been a test case,” City Council President Randy Lord said.

One state lawmaker says the vote could help make his case for new restrictions on the cameras early next year.

“I think that’s the beginning of the end for red-light cameras in Washington state,” 31st District state Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said after the election.

The Mukilteo measure requires a public vote any time city officials want to install photo enforcement cameras to catch red-light runners or speeders.

The new law also limits fines to $20, equal to the least expensive parking ticket, and requires a council super-majority to approve such proposals.

Red-light and speed-zone camera supporters like Lord and Mayor Joe Marine say the new restrictions mean the cameras likely will never be installed because the fine isn’t expensive enough to deter violators or cover the cost of the program.

“I’m disappointed,” Lord said. “We tried to do something that was cost-effective but it was not well received, so we’ll have to do something else.”

Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman and his initiative co-sponsors say the measure’s strong support reaffirms their view that people in the Puget Sound area abhor the cameras.

Eyman says voters sent a clear message to state and municipal political leaders: Rein them in or we’ll take matters into our own hands.

“Everybody and their brother is suddenly going, ‘Oh my God, that vote in Mukilteo seems to be the first domino to fall,’” he said. “We can really see the light at the end of the tunnel that red-light cameras’ days are numbered.”

The Mukilteo measure had grassroots support. During the summer, Shawn Roten, co-owner of the Mukilteo Lodge Sports Grille, asked customers to sign a petition at his restaurant along the Mukilteo Speedway.

His efforts helped get a city-wide initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot to place new restrictions on any city proposal to add red-light cameras.

The state Legislature in 2005 opened the door for cities to begin using photo enforcement cameras.

Lynnwood has cameras at eight intersections and two school zones. It began using photo enforcement cameras in 2007.

The city pays American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., $54,000 a month to lease the cameras, which record video and snap photos of vehicles that make right turns without stopping or run through red lights at intersections.

Last year, the city received $2.1 million in revenue from the cameras. Through May of this year, it received nearly $2.2 million.

Lynnwood Councilman Jim Smith has argued that the city, which faces unprecedented layoffs and service cuts because of a budget crunch, has become dependent upon the money it gets from the cameras. He said he isn’t convinced that city streets are safer because of them.

His council colleague Ted Hikel disagrees.

Safety, not money, drove the council to implement the program, he said. Revenues will decline as drivers change their habits, he said.

“So far, they’ve reduced accidents, which is the point of our doing it,” he said.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, sponsored the 2005 legislation that gave cities the green light to use the cameras.

Haugen said everything she’s heard about the cameras shows they save lives and improve safety.

“I think people have raised some legitimate issues,” said Haugen, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “I think it’s the cities’ responsibility to make changes. I don’t believe in Big Brother telling the cities what to do.”

That’s not how Nick Sherwood sees it. Sherwood and his wife, Tiffany, of Puyallup, created the Web site earlier this year. They’re pushing lawmakers to do away with automated photo enforcement. Though the Sherwoods joined with Kirkland real estate agent Alex Rion to support Eyman’s Mukilteo initiative, they’ve never been entirely comfortable with the initiative process, saying it lets politicians off the hook.

“They created this monster and they need to be responsible for dealing with it,” Nick Sherwood said. “We hire these people; that’s what we pay them for.”

The couple say they have allies in Olympia, including Hurst and state Sen. Jim Kastama. Hurst wants to limit fines to $25 and set a yellow light minimum of four seconds. Kastama said he’d like to introduce legislation to hold down fines.

“Generally, my position has been that this should not be a moneymaker for any jurisdiction,” he said. “When we start making money from the infractions that occur, we start enforcing those areas more than others.”

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