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Red Light Camera-Ready

It Can’t Happen Here


NIX ON PLASTIC: If you’re driving in Arizona, where some Phoenix-area roads have red-light and speed-detection cameras, you can get a ticket just for having a plastic cover over your license plate. The plastic diffuses the camera flash, see.

Not that anyone in that law-and-order state would dream of being a scofflaw. No way. Drivers just want to keep their plates nice and tidy.

So how come these covers are also illegal in Santa Barbara, which doesn’t have red-light or speed cameras, asks Ernie Salomon, the ever-indignant TV talk-show host?

Barney Brantingham

Seems as though Ernie’s wife, Donna, (one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, by the way) got ticketed here for her car’s plastic license-plate cover. Ernie sent me a thundering email protesting that “Police Chief Cam Sanchez has come up with a brilliant money-raising scheme,” using the seldom-enforced state law.

Ernie said he heard that it’s because the city plans to install intersection cameras in order to nab our many red-light runners — and ring the cash registers. True, racing the red is a plague Sue and I have long noticed on our risky upper State Street strolls.

But Jim Armstrong, city administrator, emailed Ernie in reply: “I am unaware of any plans at this time for our city to install cameras for traffic enforcement purposes.” When I talked to Ernie after hearing from Armstrong, he conceded that the ticketing “is not a concerted effort.” A decade or two ago, the city council vetoed the idea. Researching how it worked elsewhere, I found that it was not such a hot idea.

As Ernie put it, “Many jurisdictions have reported that [cameras] bring in less revenue than they cost to operate and maintain and they have discontinued their use.”

A shuttle driver in Ventura told me last week that he’s mighty careful at intersections due to its red-light-camera program. “You can get 10 tickets in one day without realizing it. A local joke is that it’s a good way to get a family portrait.” The fine, he said, is $300.

But Santa Barbara County’s only red-light-camera program screeched to a halt late last year in Santa Maria — against the city’s wishes. Santa Maria had planned to expand the program after having issued 2,249 citations since June, 2007, intending it to be a revenue-neutral safety measure, an official told me. The penalty was $406 and one point on your driving record. But the cameras, at two intersections, were jerked out after the vendor went bust.

I was aware of the plastic-cover mini-controversy in Arizona, but had no idea they’re illegal in California, as well. Have been for many years, according to Police Lt. Paul McCaffrey. The shields can impede recognition of plate numbers, Lt. McCaffrey told me. The chief has not launched some anti-plastic-cover campaign, nor is he trying to raise money this way, McCaffrey said.

And if raising revenue were the motive behind the issuing of such tickets (a rather rare event, I gathered from McCaffrey), it would be a losing plan, Ernie said. By the time an officer writes the ticket and spends time explaining it to you, and the PD processes the ticket and $25 fee, “it might even cost the taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, the license-plate war has gone one step further in Arizona, where extremes are the rule. Cops can stop you (and no doubt ask about your citizenship status in the process) if the word “Arizona” is not clearly and totally visible at the top of the plate. The most common, evil cause of such flagrant and shocking violation of good Arizona citizenship is the use of license-plate frames, the ones that celebrate things like your favorite college or sports team. Why is it so important to see the state’s entire name? To be able to differentiate between AZ and out-of-state plates, law enforcement declares. Fine: $135.

After the law went into effect this year, someone checked the Arizona Senate’s parking lot and found that half of the 26 vehicles there were apparently breaking the law: They had plate frames obscuring the word “Arizona.”

A Santa Barbara friend tells me he’s heard that some towns are planning to use these cameras to catch drivers on their cell phones.

(Thanks to Ernie, by the way, for his work in helping convict Denise D’Sant Angelo of stealing donations meant for three nuns. The Sisters of Bethany had been evicted from their Eastside convent by the L.A. Archdiocese. D’Sant Angelo was sentenced to two years in prison last week.)

NO JOSHING: When DA hopeful Josh Lynn was notified last Friday, June 11, that he was placed on a day of administrative leave, I felt he should have smelled the coffee and resigned. Instead, he launched an ugly media campaign. “Mr. Lynn took the one paid day off and twisted it in an inappropriate way that is negatively affecting the office,” acting District Attorney Ann Bramsen said, in firing Lynn the following Tuesday. Instead of taking a professional approach after being notified of the leave, Lynn popped off with a series of highly questionable remarks, showing a lack of judgment and temperament for the job. The voters were clearly right to elect Joyce Dudley.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.



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