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L.A. City Council Says You Don't Have to Pay Your Red-Light Camera Tickets (and Never Did)

Update with clarification: "Are You Sure I Don't Have to Pay My L.A. County Red-Light Camera Ticket?"

Update: The L.A. City Council has unanimously voted to eliminate the city's red-light camera program. Tickets will cease to be issued this Sunday. (Not that you have to pay them up until then, either. Stupid.) For all y'all inquiring about other cities in L.A. County: Details at bottom of post.

Originally posted July 26 at 9:30 a.m.

The red-light camera program has turned out to be one of the biggest time- and money-wasters in the history of dysfunctional L.A. government. Not only for the citizens themselves, forking over $450 and sitting through traffic school for trying to squeak through on yellow (often the only way to move through traffic at rush hour), but for the flat-broke Los Angeles Police Department as well.

So Councilman Paul Koretz' concession at yesterday's L.A. City Council meeting was somewhat bittersweet, at least for all those who've poured their life's savings into traffic court: Koretz admitted that, if you don't pay your red-light camera ticket, the court will "send you a note saying you owe more money because you didn't pay the first time" ...

... "But they'll never actually make you pay, and they won't put it on your credit.''

In case you're still confused: Do not pay your red-light camera tickets.

If you want to know who to thank for this long-time-coming moment of clarity, we point you to an LA Weekly cover story that ran last month, after the L.A. Police Commission took a historic vote to de-endorse the program: "Jay Beeber: Folk Hero Stops L.A.'s Red Light Cameras."

Here's how Beeber, "a libertarian at heart" crusading for traffic "fairness," convinced a bunch of paranoid, debt-happy politicians that the program was moot:

Beeber says he was motivated by sheer scientific curiosity rather than anger. He hasn't had a moving violation in 20 years. But in 2009, he began to apply the scientific method he learned at the University of Michigan to the data supporting the use of red-light-camera tickets.

He estimates he spent thousands of hours, and ultimately caught LAPD making dubious claims based on iffy data. One such claim was that five fatal accidents occurred at specific intersections before the red-light cameras were installed, and none occurred after. But two of the five accidents were not red light-related, he says, and a third involved a drunken driver who zipped through despite a camera there, mounted by a previous vendor. The fourth, "caused by a young distracted driver," likely would not have been prevented by a camera.

Red-light camera advocacy groups -- namely, American Traffic Solutions, or, the company who stands to lose a $15 million camera contract with L.A. -- have done everything they can, including call the LA Weekly every other day for weeks, to convince city officials, and the public, that camera-less red lights kill.

But, like Beeber, we're not buying it.

And the part that makes us most buttsore is that up to 100,000 drivers, unaware the Superior Court had no intention of enforcing the ridiculously expensive tickets, already paid into the program, or at least had to deal with it/evade it -- which, even more ridiculously, has ended up costing the city over $1 million per year, according to City Controller Wendy Greuel.

The City Council will take a final vote on Wednesday over whether to nix the cameras, but even that could end up costing more taxpayer funds. City News Service reports that:

The City Attorney's Office told the [Budget and Finance Committee that] the city could be responsible for paying to remove the cameras and repairing the sidewalks where they were installed.

OK, before we pop our stitches, let's just leave it at this: Do not pay your red-light camera tickets. Not now. And not ever. Again.

Update: The red-light camera programs in cities outside Los Angeles have not, at this point, been terminated.

However, Paul Neuman, aide to Councilman Koretz, says red-light tickets issued in cities outside L.A. but within the county -- because they also go through the L.A. County Superior Court -- "are probably more or less in the same boat." But so far, "L.A. is the only one stating on the record that you don't have to pay."

We're calling around to individual cities, to see if they are willing to take a similar stance on the cameras, or if they have separate, harsher collections contracts in place. Check back for updates.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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