Now the Mayor says elminating the cameras will require multi-million dollar cuts to the police department budget:Although voters abolished Houston's red light camera system Tuesday, the 70 cameras have the green light to keep recording traffic violations for months as the city weighs a legal strategy for exiting its contract with the firm operating the cameras, city officials say.
Anti-camera activists slammed the delay Wednesday, insisting on immediately terminating the five-year contract — whatever the cost - with ATS, the Arizona firm that manages Houston's system. The May 2009 contract has a termination clause that requires the city to provide the company with a 120-day notice of cancellation, a period when the cameras will still be in full operation and civil fines issued, according to the city attorney.
A column in the Galveston News put it succinctly:Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged the referendum has exacerbated ongoing challenges with the city's budget and noted HPD, which was the recipient of funds from the camera program, would be responsible for cutting its budget to make up for the immediate $10 million gap created by the vote.
"We're going to try to do it in a way that does not impact public safety," she said, although she acknowledged that furloughs or layoffs of city employees may be necessary, a position she has maintained since passing the fiscal 2011 budget with more than $70 million of unrealized revenue and spending cuts.
If red-light cameras are about public safety, no one has made a convincing case.The company profiting red-light cameras spent $1.7 million to oppose the ballot initiative, a sum which dwarfed camera opponents' spending by 10-1. It didn't matter; voters still rejected the cameras, just as they did in College Station last year. Notably, other jurisdictions across the country rejected red-light cameras wherever they were challenged, this go-round in Mukilteo, Washington; Anaheim, California; and Baytown, Texas.
In Houston, when the election returns showed that voters had put an end to red-light cameras, the story was about money, not about public safety.
On Facebook, the group that successfully challenged the cameras is urging Houston drivers not to pay tickets received after the plebiscite:
If you currently have a pending RLC ticket do not pay it. They can do nothing to you, can not issue a warrant, can not report you to a credit bureau and you can still register your car. Don't let them scare you. WE WON, don't pay, nothing will happen to you, they only try to scare you out of your $$$$, just don't pay...Read Texas Transportation code 707, if you read it, you will see there is little they can do. :PThough I'm not a lawyer, from my understanding of the statutes that's probably accurate advice. As a practical matter, the city has no means to collect fines going forward and only dubious legal authority to do so. Either way, whether they're removed now or four months from now, red-light cameras in Houston are a goner. If I had my druthers, the Legislature would follow voters' lead next year and eliminate this misbegotten cash cow across the board.
RELATED: More from Kuff, who opposed the ballot initiative and wishes the pro-camera crowd had engaged in more negative campaigning.