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."