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Lawsuit Targets Murrieta Red-Light Camera Initiative

A hearing was scheduled for this morning in Riverside Superior Court, while another party filed a fair political practices complaint against the proponents of the lawsuit meant to stop the initiative from appearing on the November ballot.

A Murrieta man is the lead petitioner in a lawsuit filed by a Sacramento law firm in an attempt to get off the November ballot.

Steve Flynn is being represented by Charles H. Bell, Jr., of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk in the lawsuit filed June 5.

Flynn was a Public Safety and Traffic commissioner for the city of Murrieta when the red-light cameras were installed. He told Patch Thursday that he began asking for the cameras when, as the owner of the former Hollywood Video on California Oaks Road, customers came in daily and complained about drivers running red lights.

As the commission chair at the time, Flynn said he took up the cause.

"I started going out and seeing what I could do. I went to the police and to city council," Flynn said.

Within a year, the cameras were up at three Murrieta intersections: Murrieta Hot Springs and Whitewood roads, Murrieta Hot Springs and Margarita road, and Clinton Keith Road and Nutmeg Street.

Murrieta resident Diana Serafin was successful in her petition to get the measure on November's ballot that would ban the city from using the cameras.

Serafin alleges the city is losing money on the cameras, to the tune of $58,000 every three months to operate them. She alleges the city nets $30 per $490 ticket, while the rest goes to the state and the camera company.

It is also a violation of civil rights, Serafin claims.

"This is a scam and that is why I jumped on it," she said.

Polar opposites in their opinions, Flynn and Serafin have both been featured on AM 640 KFI's "John and Ken Show" this week.

The Pacific Justice Institute has agreed to help fight the lawsuit. Serafin learned through them that an ex-parte hearing—meant to show cause in order to speed up the trial process—was set for 9:30 a.m. Friday in Riverside.

Among those named in the suit are Serafin, co-petitioner Robin Nielson, Murrieta City Clerk Kay Vinson, Riverside County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil and the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

By placing the measure on the ballot, the law firm alleges that the city is in violation of its powers.

"Placement of the initiative on the...ballot would violate the California Constitution...because the initiative is beyond the power of the electorate to enact," the lawsuit states. "...Municipal governments like the city of Murrieta...may only regulate municipal affairs, not matters of statewide concern...Under California law, the Legislature can limit the exercise of initiative power in matters of statewide concern."

Flynn said he was approached by the Sacramento law firm to sign the lawsuit, which also represents the California Republican Party. He said they have until 88 days before the election to be successful in getting the initiative removed.

"I believe in this cause," Flynn said.

Serafin questioned who is paying the firm for its time, implying it could be American Traffic Systems—the company that owns and manages the red-light cameras in Murrieta.

In statements to The Press-Enterprise and The Californian, ATS denied its involvement in the lawsuit.

Flynn said he has not talked with ATS since 2005 when the city decided to install the cameras.

Attorney Bell could not immediately be reached for comment on the case late Thursday.

In another development this week, Bob Kowell, who led the 2010 effort for Murrieta Measures C, D and E, has filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission against Flynn and his attorney.

Kowell alleges Flynn and Bell are violating the Political Reform Act by not forming a political action committee in their quest to get the initiative stopped.

"Since this is a political issue, I don't see how Flynn and Bell can make this complaint without (that) in place," Kowell wrote in his complaint. "The Murrieta Measure has a PAC—the Limited Government PAC—to track money. In the case of Flynn and Attorney Charles Bell, no one can find out who is funding the lawsuit to stop the measure from being put on the ballot.

"Also, Flynn and Bell are not really suing the city or Kay Vinson, they are suing the 6,000+ people who signed the petition. They are suing the people."

The —with an additional 32 signatures. Serafin said more than 6,000 signed, but about 1,500 signatures were invalidated because of the high foreclosure rate.

"They weren't aware they needed to re-register to vote when they moved and switched addresses," Serafin said.

But Serafin said "it is no longer about the cameras."

"It is about taking away our constitutional right to petition the government," she said.

Flynn alleges Serafin lied to citizens to gather more signatures.

"If people were really behind this, she would of gathered thousands of more signatures," Flynn said. "These citizens do not want lies. They want the truth."

Serafin claims she has not lied.

"Everything I did, I can prove," Serafin said, noting she took much of her information from documents obtained from the city through a public records request.

Meanwhile, Murrieta police are launching a public information campaign about the red-light cameras. Fliers will be distributed at the Father's Day Car Show on Sunday, according to Murrieta police Sgt. Jay Froboese. And a 30-minute video about the red-light cameras will be aired on Verizon channel 33 as well as posted on the city's website, he said.

"When we installed the cameras, the camera company told us that driving behaviors would change citywide," Froboese said. "We believe the citizens of Murrieta have changed."

There were 11 traffic fatalities in Murrieta in 2005 prior to the cameras being installed, he said. The following year, there was one.

He cited a dramatic drop in tickets at the respective intersections—from 5,100 tickets a month combined in 2005 to 121 a month combined in September 2011.

Froboese also said 72 percent of those ticketed at the intersections do not reside in Murrieta.

"What that says is Murrieta residents are not running the lights but others who are coming into our city are."

Additionally, he said 98 percent of those ticketed do not get cited a second time.

Froboese sought to clarify that the city, the Police Department nor ATS "have anything to do with the lawsuit."

"We want the initiative before the people; we want them to have their say," Froboese said. "But we want the information—the truth—to be out there. Our effort now is to show how the program has been exceptionally run. It was about safety from the beginning and not what you see on the Internet about red-light cameras."

Stephen June 18, 2012 at 07:00 PM
ATS have "nothing" to do with the suit eh??? Why don't we see what ATS did over in WA state! http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/35/3553.asp "In November, 71 percent of voters said they wanted nothing to do with the photo ticketing program that the city could had approved on May 17, 2010. By June, Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman began circulating a petition to overturn the ordinance and by July 19, 2010 the city council had no choice but to place the initiative on the ballot (although it converted the item into an "advisory" measure without disclosing this change on any of the ballot material). On the same day, "Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Government" filed suit to block the vote from happening. Court documents describe this group as "an unincorporated association of Mukilteo residents." As the emails obtained by the Herald show, this "association" was wholly created by ATS. "We would like to get the Eyman initiative stopped before it goes to vote," Kroske wrote to Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine on July 14. "We have hired a strong Seattle attorney firm, but they need a Mukilteo resident to use for the filing. They could use the mayor, in his official capacity, as the defendant in a declaratory judgment action, but a resident might look better. So we need your help here. Do you know someone who agrees with stopping this action and would be will(ing) to have us file under their name? We need to submit the filing by Friday, so we need to make the decision today."
David Shisler June 19, 2012 at 01:42 AM
This is for Bart Simpson, If you get into an intersection on a yellow light, you're not in voilation of the red light law. If you're headed straight and the lights green, and the roadway is blocked with traffic up ahead,and you can't clear the intersection, don't enter the intersection, if you're making a left turn don't enter on a yellow unless there is room for you to complete the turn,and clear the intersection, this is the anti-gridlock law. If you entered the intersection making a left on green,or yellow because there is room for you to clear the intersection, usually you have to wait for opposing traffic to clear and sometimes are unable to proceed through the intersection till you have a red light stopping opposing traffic, no violation. Traffic receiving a green light must wait for all traffic legally within the intersection to clear before proceeding. For example a big rig crosses the limit line to the intersection before the light turns red, you get a green light, you must wait for the big rig to clear the intersection before proceeding, this could take some time depending on its speed, you might even feel that he must have run a red light, but he didn't, no voilation. Actually its not easy for an officer to write red light tickets, he needs to be in a position to observe light colors and apprehend the violator, cameras are a great solution.
James C. Walker June 19, 2012 at 04:11 PM
In almost every case, simply adding 1.0 seconds to the yellow intervals on the lights will reduce the red light violations by MORE than ticket cameras. So, why do cities choose to use cameras instead of safer, longer yellows that work better ??? The rea$on$ citie$ u$e camera$ in$tead of $afer and longer yellow$ i$ obviou$ to mo$t ob$erver$, and the rea$on$ do not include $afety. See the science and investigative research on our website. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI
David Shisler June 20, 2012 at 02:53 AM
I went to James C Walker web site National Motorists Association, one thing they state,"motorist don't casually drive through red lights". Horse picky, we have drivers that have the inconsiderate screw you I'm going through attitude, especially left turn and right turn voilators after the light been red for some time. Usually they don't cause accidents, they just stick it to the rest of the motoring public that have to wait for their sorry ass to clear the intersection. Keep the cameras.

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