A petition against red light cameras in Murrieta began circulating this week.
Petitioners must gather 4,500 signatures of Murrieta residents who are registered voters in order for it to be considered as a ballot initiative.
"We are trying to get 6,000 just to be safe," said Diana Serafin, lead petitioner.
If she is successful in gathering that many valid signatures, an initiative ordering removal of the cameras could appear on the 2012 ballot, giving voters the ultimate say.
Serafin's main complaint with the cameras has been whether the cameras are operating correctly. She has said yellow lights at the intersections in question are not long enough, which would cause more tickets to be issued.
"We all know camera videos can be manipulated," Serafin states on the website, Banthecamsmurrieta.com. "Other concerns (are) how often the equipment is calibrated, maintained or replaced."
She has also said the cameras cause more rear-end collisions.
Four cameras are installed among three intersections in Murrieta: Nutmeg Street and Clinton Keith Road, Murrieta Hot Springs Road and Whitewood Road and Murrieta Hot Springs Road and Margarita Road. Fines for drivers caught running red lights range from $438 to $540.
At the same time the Murrieta fightback is taking shape, State Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Beaumont, is taking a bigger step by trying to prohibit the cameras statewide. Assembly Bill 1008 was introduced by Cook in February. Besides prohibiting the installation of red light traffic cameras beginning next year, it would require studies for cities to justify existing ones.
“People don't trust government, and red light cameras aren't helping,'' Cook said in a February statement. “I think folks feel like they're being sold a bill of goods. The fines keep going up, and there's no clear evidence that they reduce the number of accidents or lead to greater public safety. Governments need to prove that they work.''
Cook's Chief of Staff John Sobel said AB 1008 is up for its first hearing on April 13.
"We have to feel it out," Sobel said. "That is when we will see if other legislators are supportive. Unless the hearing is delayed, we anticipate a vote on the 13th."
If it gets approved by the Assembly Local Government Committee, the bill will head to a fiscal committee hearing. Should it pass there, it would head to the Assembly floor before going on to the State Senate.
One place the bill is not getting support from is the League of California Cities. In a March 17 letter to Cook's office, the league expressed its opposition to the bill.
"We agree that red light cameras are not a suitable tool for every intersection. This is why current law allows cities to make that decision for themselves, in collaboration with their police department, based on local conditions, and in accordance with established guidelines," wrote Dorothy Holzem, associate legislative representative for the League of California Cities.
"Unfortunately, AB 1008 seeks to preempt local decision making powers for a one-size fits all approach, taking away a safety tool that has been implemented in many cities. For these reasons, the League respectfully opposes your measure."
While Murrieta does not fall under the 65th district, which Cook represents, other Southern California cities that operate red light camera systems include Riverside, Grand Terrace, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, San Bernardino and Victorville.
In 2008, San Bernardino was forced to pay refunds because its yellow lights were too short, according to Sobel.
Cities that had systems but have since shut them down include Loma Linda, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Indian Wells, Yucaipa and Moreno Valley. A contract to install red light cameras in Hemet was signed in 2009, but the system was never ultimately installed, Sobel said.
The contract for Murrieta's cameras expires this year. City Council voted in January to renew the contracts, plus add two more cameras. Murrieta Mayor Randon Lane said Thursday that the City is now working on a contract to keep only the four cameras in place. That means the two additional cameras proposed at freeway off-ramps at northbound Interstate 15 and Murrieta Hot Springs Road, and at southbound Interstate 215 at Murrieta Hot Springs Road, will not be going in anytime soon.
"We are kind of in limbo. There is a lot of cost to putting more equipment in," Lane said. "We are working on a contract that will allow us to keep these in place until we see how the initiatives go. Then if they pass, we won't be out that money."
The City pays a monthly fee to operate the cameras, which under the new contract is $21,035. Staff said the City stands to profit about $4,703 per year under the contract. Council members have talked about giving that revenue to charities.
"I think a lot of people start to have a second opinion when we tell them we don't make money off (the cameras)," Lane said.
"We don't set the fines, the states does," he added.