New Jersey Shuts Down Red Light Cameras In 21 Cities After Finding They Don’t Meet Legal Requirements For Yellow Light Timing

June 21, 2012

NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) yesterday ordered a halt to red light camera ticketing in 21 cities. The agency became concerned drivers are being shortchanged and the law violated after learning that 63 of 85 photo ticketing intersections failed to meet legal requirements for yellow signal timing. The agency prohibited ticketing at these locations pending certification of each individual intersection’s timing.

“It has come to the attention of the department that the pilot program legislation specifies a formula to determine the proper duration of the yellow light in a traffic signal that differs from the legally required, nationally accepted formula that NJDOT or municipalities use when installing traffic signals,” NJDOT explained in a statement yesterday.

NJDOT said any camera operating with an overly short yellow will be removed from the camera program. In 2008, lawmakers skeptical of the motives behind photo ticketing inserted a provision into the camera program authorization that put in place one of the most stringent yellow timing provisions in the country. Their goal was to reduce the likelihood that municipalities and private vendors would exploit timing deficiencies to generate ticketing revenue. The National Motorists Association, which helped push for the signal timing law, believes the claims of photo enforcement proponents have been undermined by municipalities in New Jersey.

“Even with the law, the program was not implemented properly,” NMA’s New Jersey chapter coordinator Steve Carrellas said. “It goes to show that camera enforcement should never be allowed since it’s almost never fair to motorists.”

According to NJDOT, only 22 out of 85 intersections were certified with an appropriate yellow signal timing. The law specifies a typical 35 MPH intersection must have at least 3.5 seconds of yellow time, and a 45 MPH intersection would be 4.5 seconds, and so on. Most cities achieve shortened yellow times by posting speed limits far below the actual travel speed of traffic. The law prevents this with a provision specifying that the yellow time can only be set according to the speed at which 85 percent of traffic moves. The net result is that the law mandates significantly longer yellows.

“This requirement aims to ensure that the traffic signal is timed properly to provide motorists with sufficient time to avoid a violation and fine by entering an intersection when the light is red,” NJDOT explained.

The Texas Transportation Institute concluded in 2004 that yellows shorter by a second than the ITE recommended amount generated a 110 percent jump in citations (view report). The vast majority of those extra violations happened within the first 0.25 seconds after the light turned red (see chart).

Ohio and Georgia have similarly tough statues, requiring one second be added to the yellow time of any intersection that has a red light camera. In Georgia, implementation of the law produced an immediate 80 percent reduction in violations, so much that the state’s primary photo ticketing vendor, Lasercraft, was forced to sell its business.

New Jersey’s automated ticketing ban applies to Newark, Linden, Wayne, Palisades Park, Union Township, Springfield (Union County), Roselle Park, Rahway, Englewood Cliffs, Pohatcong, Piscataway, Edison, East Windsor, Lawrence, Cherry Hill, Stratford, Monroe, Brick and Glassboro.

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Washington DC Pockets $55 Million In Safety Cash From Redlight And Speed Cameras – Fines Have Risen 150% Over 2 To 3 Years – District Ads Lots More Cameras Hoping For Extra $30 Million In Next Year

June 8, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Speed and red-light cameras have become a booming industry. After a record performance last year, D.C. is on pace to bring in even more cash this year.

Using a Freedom of Information Act request, AAA Mid-Atlantic found that the District took in a record $55.1 million from speed and red-light cameras during its 2011 fiscal year, despite issuing fewer citations than the year before.

In 2011, the city mailed 462,601 tickets. Of those, 397,464 were paid and 65,137 remain unpaid. In 2010, D.C. mailed 618,165 tickets. Of those, 547,131 were paid and 71,034 were not.

“No one does it better that the District of Columbia,” says John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs.

He says revenues have climbed because fines have gone up by 150 percent over the last two to three years.

By comparison, Montgomery County, which is both larger and more populous than D.C., took in $19 million from camera enforcement within a similar time span, according to Townsend.

This year, the District is expected to set new records for revenue and number of tickets issued. From October 2011 to April 2012, the city has mailed 472,320 tickets.

So far, 353,342 have been paid.

“They’ve said that they want to generate $30 million more in the next budget cycle,” Townsend says.

“Once you do that, you raise questions about the integrity of the program.”

Additionally, 27 more speed cameras came online this week after a 30-day grace period. Locations of those cameras include well-traveled routes, such as the 14th Street Bridge, the Ninth Street Tunnel, and the Southwest Freeway.

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Brown County Wisconsin Sheriff’s Department And Drug Task Force Use Lies And Scam To Steal $7,500 From Disabled Woman Trying To Post Her Son’s Bail – Money From ATM’s, Like All Circulating US Currency, Had Traces Of Drugs

May 21, 2012

BROWN COUNTY, WISCONSIN – When the Brown County, Wis., Drug Task Force arrested her son Joel last February, Beverly Greer started piecing together his bail.

She used part of her disability payment and her tax return. Joel Greer’s wife also chipped in, as did his brother and two sisters. On Feb. 29, a judge set Greer’s bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. “The police specifically told us to bring cash,” Greer says. “Not a cashier’s check or a credit card. They said cash.”

So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she’d be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son.

Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers’ cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills — and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money.

“I told them the money had just come from the bank,” Beverly Greer says. “We had just taken it out. If the money had drugs on it, then they should go seize all the money at the bank, too. I just don’t understand how they could do that.”

The Greers had been subjected to civil asset forfeiture, a policy that lets police confiscate money and property even if they can only loosely connect them to drug activity. The cash, or revenue from the property seized, often goes back to the coffers of the police department that confiscated it. It’s a policy critics say is often abused, but experts told The HuffPost that the way the law is applied to bail money in Brown County is exceptionally unfair.

It took four months for Beverly Greer to get her family’s money back, and then only after attorney Andy Williams agreed to take their case. “The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money,” Williams says. “Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money.”

Wisconsin is one of four states (along with Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon) that prohibits bail bondsmen. So bail must be paid either in cash, with a registered check, cashier’s check or credit card. In fact, Donna Kuchler, a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney based in Waukesha, said police aren’t allowed to insist on cash.

“I would be suspicious of why they would do that,” Kuchler says. “I had a case last year in Fond du Lac County where they tried to say my client could only pay in cash. My guess is that they probably intended to do the same thing that happened here. We brought a cashier’s check anyway, and they knew they had to accept it.”

But the Greers still fared better than Jesus Zamora, whose family and friends continue to fight for police to return their bail money. Zamora was arrested in January on misdemeanor drug possession and a misdemeanor gun charge. A judge set his bail at $5,000.

“My girlfriend borrowed some money from her sister and mother and a few friends, and they came to bail me out,” Zamora says. “But then they started asking her if she had brought drug money. They took the money away and said they were going to have the drug dogs sniff it. She asked them when I would be let out, and they told her, ‘He isn’t going anywhere’.”

The police then seized Zamora’s bail money, just as they did with the Greers’. “I stayed in jail for, I think, another 11 days. I lost count. I had never been arrested for drugs before. And this was for a really small amount. Seventeen painkillers, for which I had a prescription, and a small bag they say had traces of cocaine. And they say my girlfriend and I just had $5,000 in drug money lying around.”

Zamora’s girlfriend borrowed more money from friends and coworkers, which she promised to pay back out of her mother’s tax return. They waited until Zamora had a court date, and this time posted his bail in front of a judge, with a cashier’s check. Wisconsin law enforcement officials also are required to provide a receipt when they confiscate property under forfeiture laws. Beverly Greer and Jesus Zamora both said they were never given receipts.

Brown County Drug Task Force Director Lt. Dave Poteat says the dog alerts were not the only factors. According to Poteat, the Greers and Zamora’s girlfriend appeared nervous when they brought in the bail money. “Their stories didn’t add up. Their ATM receipts had the wrong times on them. And they were withdrawing from several different locations. The times just didn’t correspond to their stories.”

Poteat says an additional reason Zamora’s bail money was confiscated was because during calls from the jail to multiple people, he indicated that the money was drug-related. “Mr. Zamora made a number of calls in which he appeared to be trying to disguise or hide where the money was coming from,” Poteat says. “At one point, he even said to another party, ‘of course the money is dirty.'”

According to Poteat, all inmate calls from the jail are recorded, and both the inmate and the party they call are warned before the call begins.

Zamora says he was merely telling his girlfriend where to get the bail money. “There’s a guy who still owes me money from a car I sold to him. And where I’m from, everyone has a nickname. So I was telling her who she could go to that might be able to give her some money for my bail. I used nicknames because I didn’t want the police to visit their houses.”

Zamora says he was not attempting to disguise where the money was from, only telling his girlfriend and sister to find someone else to bring in the money so they wouldn’t be interrogated. “I know how police do this. My sister just got her immigration papers. I didn’t want them harassing her or threatening to deport her or to change her immigration status. I just wanted to protect them, so I told them to find someone else to bring in the money.”

Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that a piece of property — a car, a pile of cash, a house — can be guilty of a crime. Laws vary from state to state, but generally, law enforcement officials can seize property if they can show any connection between the property and illegal activity. It is then up to the owner of the property to prove in court that he owns it or earned it legitimately. It doesn’t require a property owner to actually be convicted of a crime. In fact, most people who lose property to civil asset forfeiture are never charged.

The laws were created to go after the ill-gotten gains of big-time dealers, but critics say they’ve since become a way for police departments to generate revenue — often by targeting lower-level offenders. In 2010, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian law firm, rated the forfeiture laws in all 50 states, assigning higher grades to states with fairer policies. The firm gave Wisconsin a “C.” When there’s less than $2,000 at stake, law enforcement agencies in the state get to keep 70 percent of what they take. If more than $2,000 is taken, departments can keep half.

But in all states, police agencies can contact the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), making the case federal, and under federal law, local police departments can keep up to 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds, with the rest going to the Department of Justice. The institute reports that between 2000 and 2008, police agencies in Wisconsin took in $50 million from this “equitable sharing” program with the federal government. According to Williams, the DEA recently filed a claim on Zamora’s money in federal court, to take possession of the money through federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

But even in the odd world of asset forfeiture, the seizure of bail money because of a drug-dog alert raises other concerns. In addition to increasing skepticism over the use of drug-sniffing dogs, studies have consistently shown that most U.S. currency contains traces of cocaine. In a 1994 ruling, for example, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited studies showing that 75 percent of U.S. currency in Los Angeles included traces of narcotics. In 2009, researchers at the University of Massachusetts analyzed 234 bills collected from 18 cities, and found that 90 percent contained traces of cocaine. A 2008 study published in the Trends in Analytical Chemistry came to similar conclusions, as have studies by the Federal Reserve and the Argonne National Laboratory.

Zamora says he was referring to the common presence of drugs on money when he told his girlfriend, “of course the money is dirty.” “I had talked to my attorney about how all money has some drugs on it,” Zamora says. “So I was trying to tell her what to say if they told her a dog alerted to it. That she was supposed to say, ‘Of course the money is dirty — all money is dirty.'”

Stephen Downing, a retired narcotics cop who served as assistant police chief in Los Angeles, says it isn’t surprising that a drug dog would alert to a pile of cash, since it usually has traces of drugs.

“I’d call these cases direct theft. They’re hijackings,” says Downing, who is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of former police and prosecutors who advocate ending the drug war.

Downing says he recently consulted a medical marijuana activist in California who was told to bring his bail money in cash, despite the fact that state law allows payment with a cashier’s check, a registered check or a credit card. “It makes me wonder if this seizing of bail is a new idea getting shopped around in law enforcement circles.”

Poteat says he’s aware of some studies from the 1980s about traces of narcotics on most U.S. currency, but that he didn’t know about the more recent research. “Our dogs are trained with currency that’s taken out of circulation. So they wouldn’t alert to bills that have the same traces most other bills have.”

Steven Kessler, a New York-based forfeiture attorney and the author of the legal treatise “Civil and Criminal Forfeiture: Federal and State Practice,” said he had never heard of simply confiscating bail. “It’s abhorrent. You can reject bail if you suspect the money is dirty. But you don’t simply take it and hand it over to the police department.”

Virginia attorney David Smith, who also wrote a book on forfeiture, says he has seen other cases in which authorities have confiscated bail money, but adds, “No courts have ordered forfeiture simply on the basis of a dog alert. There has to be other evidence.”

Forfeitures like these may not hold up in court, but failed cases wouldn’t necessarily discourage police departments from continuing the practice. If the defendant never challenges the seizure, the department generates revenue. If the defendant challenges and wins, the department loses little.

Indigent defendants, in particular, may decide not to pursue a forfeiture case due to the expense, particularly if they’ve already used their savings on bail, or are more concerned with fighting pending criminal charges. In many cases, the amount of cash seized would be exceeded by the costs of hiring an attorney to win it back anyway. In addition, under Wisconsin law, indigent defendants are not entitled to a public defender in civil asset forfeiture cases.

“I would think that one of these cases would be the perfect opportunity for a court to impose punitive damages against the police department,” Kessler says. “You need to make it clear that it would be damaging for the police to attempt this sort of thing in the future. Considering how appalling these cases are, I don’t see why a court couldn’t do that.”

Poteat says it “isn’t unusual” for his task force to seize bail money under forfeiture laws. “I’d say we’ve done it maybe eight or nine times this year.”

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Obama’s $8,000,000,000.00 HHS Slush Fund To Mask Debilitating Effects Of ObamaCare On Seniors In Key Markets Long Enough For His Re-Election Attempt

April 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Call it President Obama’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President — a political slush fund at the Health and Human Services Department.

Only this isn’t some little fund from shadowy private sources; this is taxpayer money, redirected to help Obama win another term. A massive amount of it, too — $8.3 billion. Yes, that’s billion, with a B.

Here is how it works.

The most oppressive aspects of the ObamaCare law don’t kick in until after the 2012 election, when the president will no longer be answerable to voters. More “flexibility,” he recently explained to the Russians.

But certain voters would surely notice one highly painful part of the law before then — namely, the way it guts the popular Medicare Advantage program.

For years, 12 million seniors have relied on these policies, a more market-oriented alternative to traditional Medicare, without the aggravating gaps in coverage.

But as part of its hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts, the Obama one-size-fits-all plan slashes reimbursement rates for Medicare Advantage starting next year — herding many seniors back into the government-run program.

Under federal “open-enrollment” guidelines, seniors must pick their Medicare coverage program for next year by the end of this year — which means they should be finding out before Election Day.

Nothing is more politically volatile than monkeying with the health insurance of seniors, who aren’t too keen on confusing upheavals in their health care and are the most diligent voters in the land. This could make the Tea Party look like a tea party.

Making matters even more politically dangerous for Obama is that open enrollment begins Oct. 15, less than three weeks before voters go to the polls.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger electoral disaster for a president than seniors in crucial states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio discovering that he’s taken away their beloved Medicare Advantage just weeks before an election.

This political ticking time bomb could become the biggest “October Surprise” in US political history.

But the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid.

The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market.

That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.

Obama can temporarily prop up Medicare Advantage long enough to get re-elected by exploiting an obscure bit of federal law. Under a 1967 statute, the HHS secretary can spend money without specific approval by Congress on “experiments” directly aimed at “increasing the efficiency and economy of health services.”

Past demonstration projects have studied new medical techniques or strategies aimed at improving care or reducing costs. The point is to find ways to lower the costs of Medicare by allowing medical technocrats to make efficient decisions without interference from vested interests.

Now Obama means to turn it on its head — diverting the money to a blatantly nonexperimental purpose to serve his political needs.

A Government Accounting Office report released this morning shows, quite starkly, that there simply is no experiment being conducted, just money being spent. Understandably, the GAO recommends that HHS cancel the project.

Congress should immediately launch an investigation into this unprecedented misuse of taxpayer money and violation of the public trust, which certainly presses the boundaries of legality and very well may breach them.

If he’s not stopped, Obama will spend $8 billion in taxpayer funds for a scheme to mask the debilitating effects on seniors of his signature piece of legislation just long enough to get himself re-elected.

Now that is some serious audacity.

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Blogger Exposes Major Flaw In TSA’s Body Scanners – How To Smuggle Anything Onto An Airplane – Same Scanners Europe Banned Over Cancer Concerns

March 7, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Controversial nude body scanners used at U.S. airports have come under fire again – after a blogger claimed he could easily smuggle explosives through them onto a plane.

Engineer Jonathan Corbett has published a video where he shows how he took a small metal case through two of the TSA’s $1billion fleet in a special side pocket stitched into his shirt.

This is because, he suggests, the scanners blend metallic areas into the dark background – so if an object is not directly placed on the body, it will not show up on the scan.

The metallic box, he claims, would have set off an alarm had he passed through the old detecting system.

His revelation comes just weeks after Europe banned the ‘airport strip-searches’ over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.

MailOnline has decided not to publish the video because it details exactly how to circumvent the safety procedure – but it is freely available to watch online.

Corbett, standing in his living room as he speaks to the camera in the video for his ‘TSA Out of Our Pants’ blog, acknowledges the technique could be used by terrorists.

But he believes they would already know about the loophole, and took the steps to show ‘how much danger the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is putting all us all in’.
TSA

Usual: In this TSA scan the metal items, located on the traveller’s body, can clearly be seen as the body appears against a black background

TSA

Contrast: In this image, the metallic object is not directly placed on the body and so does not show up on the scan as it blends into the background

STRIP-SEARCH SCANNERS BANNED IN EUROPE OVER CANCER RISKS

Europe banned the controversial airport ‘strip-search’ scanners last year over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.

They emit low radiation doses and the European Union told members in November not to install them until the potential risks are assessed.

The TSA, in contrast, has continually defended their safety, saying they expose passengers to the same radiation as two minutes on a flying plane.

Britain’s Manchester Airport, which has 16 of the $125,000 ‘backscatter’ machines, was told it can continue using them for another year.

But no new machines will be allowed there. They were once used at London Heathrow but scrapped amid complaints over privacy invasion.

They have also been tested in Germany, France, Italy, Finland and Holland but will be completely banned in April if experts rule they are dangerous.

The body scanners were introduced in a security crackdown after incidents such as the attempted ‘underwear bomb’ plot in 2009.

Around 250 X-ray scanners and 264-millimetre-wave scanners are currently used in America’s airports.

Corbett, who is suing the TSA for rolling out the scanners, explained how the loophole worked.

He said: ‘Here are several images produced by TSA nude body scanners. You’ll see that the search victim is drawn with light colours and placed on a black background in both images.

‘In these samples, the individuals are concealing metallic objects that you can see as a black shape on their light figure. Again that’s light figure, black background, and black threat items.

‘Yes that’s right, if you have a metallic object on your side, it will be the same colour as the background and therefore completely invisible to both visual and automated inspection.

‘It can’t possibly be that easy to beat the TSA’s billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can’t be that stupid, can they? Unfortunately, they can, and they are.’

He said he put his theory to the test by buying a sewing kit to sew a pocket directly onto the side of his shirt. He then took a metallic case and walked through a backscatter X-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – all of which he recorded on film.

He said: ‘While I’m not about to win any videography awards for my hidden camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket.

‘My camera gets placed on the conveyor belt and goes through its own x-ray, and when it comes out, I’m through, and the object never left my pocket.

‘Maybe a fluke? OK, let’s try again at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport through one of the TSA’s newest machines: a millimetre wave scanner with automated threat detection built-in.

‘With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through, and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA.’

More…

‘I was embarrassed and humiliated’: TSA forces nursing mother to show freshly pumped milk in order to take breast pump on plane
Man busted for trying to smuggle marijuana into an airport in a Skippy peanut butter jar (which is banned, anyway)
US Airways worker caught in luggage conveyor belts dies

He added: ‘While I carried the metal case empty, it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives, or one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous seven gram rocks of cocaine.

‘With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through. ‘
Dangerous? A demonstration of a full body scan (left) and a screen showing the results of the scan (right)

Dangerous? A demonstration of a full body scan (left) and a screen showing the results of the scan (right)
American use: In February 2011, a trial of new ‘non-intrusive’ body scanners started at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. before they were rolled out permanently in July

American use: In February 2011, a trial of new ‘non-intrusive’ body scanners started at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. before they were rolled out permanently in July

While Corbett’s actions have not been independently verified, and the TSA have not commented on the video, he said it proved the organisation’s ‘disregard for safety’.

He added: ‘Now, I’m sure the TSA will accuse me of aiding the terrorists by releasing this video, but it’s beyond belief that the terrorists haven’t already figured this out and are already plotting to use this against us.

‘It’s also beyond belief that the TSA did not already know everything I just told you, and arrogantly decided to disregard our safety. The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud.’

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California – Most Expensive Red Light Camera Tickets In The World – Individual Cameras Earning Millions For Cities And State

February 6, 2012

CALIFORNIA – California has the most expensive red-light camera tickets in the world – the fine is so steep that one camera in Oakland generates more than $3 million a year – and a Fremont man is launching a protest group to do something about that.

If Roger Jones has his way, that freezing dread that knifes through a driver the moment he sees the overhead flash of a traffic camera will become a thing of the past.

But he’s facing quite an uphill fight against officials hungry for the cash the cameras sweep in and police who are convinced they make the roads safer.

Anyone in California snapped violating a red light pays a fine of $480, and according to the traffic-watch site TheNewspaper.com, no other jurisdiction anywhere has a tab that high. The second-highest fine in the United States is $250, and it is usually more like $100.

The Legislature passed two bills in the past two years that would have reduced the fine or limited the cameras’ use, but both were vetoed. When he killed the most recent measure, Gov. Jerry Brown said the matter should be left to local jurisdictions.

The state Department of Finance has estimated that red-light cameras bring in more than $80 million annually to the state and $50 million to cities and counties – and that, Jones and his supporters say, is the real reason they continue to snap away at motorists.

Not all $480 from each ticket goes to the cities or counties that authorize the cameras – more than half goes to the state or to the companies that run the devices. And not all tickets result in convictions.

But the haul is still out of proportion to the overall set of offenses, critics say. And so even though the fine for running a red light is the same whether a camera or a live police officer generates it, the cameras draw the fire because they can issue far more tickets than a single cop sitting at an intersection.
‘Gotcha’

“Is there a limit to how much ‘gotcha government’ we have to put up with?” asked Jones, 62, a retired distribution manager who began crusading against red-light cameras after he got a ticket from one in 2009. “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.”

His newly formed organization, the Red Light Camera Protest Group, picketed at Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard in Fremont on Saturday, waving signs to approving honks from several motorists. It was their first protest, and the two dozen who participated plan more in the coming months – all calling for the elimination of red-light cameras and a reduction in the fine.

“I think we’d all be better off without them,” Jones said. “There are better ways to address the problem.”
Longer yellows

His foremost suggestion is to increase yellow-light durations, giving people more time to stop safely – and to avoid tickets.

After he pushed the city of Fremont in 2010 to tack 0.7 of a second onto the yellow light at Mission Boulevard and Mojave Drive, pushing it to five seconds, the city noted a 62 percent drop in red-light camera tickets there.

Jones and other camera foes also insist that rolling a red light on a right turn, also known as making a “Hollywood stop,” is not as dangerous as other violations – even though the vast majority of tickets given by most red-light cameras are for that violation.

One recent study in South San Francisco, cited in the Legislature during a 2010 debate over the issue, found that 98 percent of its tickets at one red-light camera were for rolling right turns.

Few oppose the usefulness of any device, including cameras, for reducing the number of people who blow straight through red lights. But that’s not the main issue, camera foes say.

A study last year by Safer Streets L.A., a community group opposed to traffic cameras, found that of the 56,000 annual accidents in Los Angeles, fewer than 100 are caused by rolling right turns.
Cops disagree

Law enforcement officers have a sharply different view of the topic.

City of Newark studies found that collisions at the intersections overseen by its five cameras since 2006 dropped by half – from 46 in the four years before the installations to 23 in the four years afterward.

And in Fremont, where Jones lives, police studies concluded that the city’s 10 cameras contributed significantly to a 40 percent drop in intersection accidents between 1995 and 2009. The cameras were installed in 2000.

“This is not a big moneymaker for us,” said Fremont police Sgt. Mark Riggs, who helps oversee the red-light camera program. The annual take for the city is about $250,000, after all the other parties get their cut, he said.

“It’s about safety,” Riggs said. “The big thing for us is aiming for a reduction in accidents.

“As far as the price is concerned,” he added, “we have nothing to do with that. We are simply about safety.”

As for “Hollywood stops” – he insisted they are vehicular dynamite.

“The right turn on a red is a very dangerous move, especially when the driver is looking to the left and the pedestrian is on the right,” Riggs said. “We investigate a lot of accidents like that, and they are bad.”
Lots of bucks

Despite the safety question, the price of the ticket, and the money it drags in, sticks most in the craw of those who hate red-light cameras.

Opponents consider it a form of regressive tax. The $480 tab consists of a base fine of $100, with extra fees tacked on by the Legislature to help pay for maintaining courthouses, jails, courts and emergency services.

Unlike most taxes and fees, it takes only a majority vote of the Legislature to add such charges. Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, authored a bill that would have cut the ticket in half for rolling a red light, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, saying reducing the fine would send the wrong message to drivers about traffic safety.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, took a cut at the issue last year, writing a bill to prohibit use of the camera tickets merely to raise revenue, and to make it easier to fight them in court. That’s the bill Brown vetoed in October.

“There are accuracy issues, privacy issues and due process issues with these tickets,” Simitian said. “The trouble is that more and more cities depend on this for revenue.”

He stops short of saying red-light cameras should be eliminated, saying they do have a safety value. “I just don’t think the current system gives the public a fair shake,” he said.

Brown’s press secretary, Gil Duran, said the veto was not about money.

“Running a red light can cost lives,” he said in an e-mail. “The fine is cheap by comparison.”
Pricey corner

The sums hauled in by some of the red-light cameras in the 14 Bay Area cities that use them are anything but paltry.

The highest, apparently, is in Oakland at the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue.

In 2010, the most recent year for which city figures were available, 9,273 tickets were issued there through violation pictures – worth a gross of $4.2 million, based on the 2010 red-light ticket fine of $450. Figures available for much of 2011 put the gross worth at more than $3 million.

Ken Germann, a 65-year-old teacher who lives in Oakland, knew he was in trouble, and probably out a few bucks, the second he saw the dreaded red-light camera light flash at that intersection one day in December. But then he pulled over, watched two other cars get flashed right after him – and he got mad.

He got even madder when he found out how much the ticket fine is.

“I stopped full, and so did the others, and the camera snapped me anyway,” he said last week as he stood in line at the Alameda County courthouse to book a trial date, traffic ticket in hand. “These things must just be there to make money.”

Ticketing the family

Halfway down the block on 27th from the light, Phuong Nguyen works at MP Flowers and sees the camera light flicker all day. She shook her fist in its direction.

“Three members of my family got tickets at that light in the past month while driving to work,” she said. “Lot of money for the government, not such a good idea for the rest of us.”

Jessica Lubnieski, 27, lives a few blocks north of the light, though, and says she is grateful for it.

“I walk my dog this route all the time, and people go flying through that light when they turn,” she said as she strolled by the intersection with Cooper, her mutt. “They so often don’t even see us.

“I just have to think that camera makes people more careful.”

$480 Current fine for violating a red light in California.

$80 million Paid annually to state.

$50 million Fines paid annually to cities and counties.

$4.2 million Amount generated in 2010 by one camera near the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue in Oakland.

Appeared Here


White House Hides Obama’s Involvement And/Or Ties To Bankrupt Solyndra Company – $535 Million Loan From Feds

October 15, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Congress isn’t getting a glimpse of what’s on President Barack Obama’s Blackberry – or any more internal White House communications related to the bankrupt solar company Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government.

House Republicans investigating the loan controversy had requested all internal White House documents about the issue. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chair Rep. Cliff Stearns said that includes emails on the President’s Blackberry.

On Friday the White House Counsel sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee explaining they won’t comply with the request because it “implicates longstanding and significant institutional Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”

The response is hardly a surprise given past administrations’ refusal to comply with similar congressional requests. The difference here? President Obama is the first Chief Executive to carry a Blackberry, so it’s the first time a White House counsel has – even indirectly – turned down an attempt to peek at his email. Neither the Blackberry nor his personal email is explicitly mentioned in the letter.

On October 5, Republican Chairmen Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns requested “all communications among White House staff and officials related to the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra” because they believed “the White House was closely involved in the monitoring of the Solyndra loan guarantee after it was issued.”

They said these documents are necessary “to better understand the involvement of the White house in the review of the Solyndra loan guarantee and the Administration’s support of this guarantee.’

In her letter Friday, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said, “the three federal agencies most directly involved in the Solyndra loan guarantee, the Department of Energy, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury, are all cooperating with the Committee’s investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee.”

Together she says the three agencies have turned over 70,000 pages of documents and are continuing to do so “on a rolling basis.” The letter states the White House has turned over another 900 pages related to communications between the White House and Solyndra, its representatives and investors. She offers to cooperate further with the investigators.

CNN has attempted to reach the Chairs of the Energy and Commerce Committee for comment. Expect some kind of political fallout.

Solyndra is a California solar panel manufacturer that had received $535 million in federal loan guarantees before it was forced to halt operations and file for bankruptcy at the end of August, putting more than 1,000 workers out of work.

Before its failure, the company had been touted as an example of the benefits of creating green jobs by the Obama administration. But since then, it has become the center of congressional criticism and a probe by the FBI.

Brian Harrison, the CEO of Solyndra, resigned Wednesday amidst the scandal.

Appeared Here