The state Senate failed legislation to outlaw red light cameras in its most recent session and city officials say they are moving forward with plans to accept bids from vendors to install and run cameras at two Clearwater intersections.
The city's original Dec. 15, 2010 deadline was put on hold pending the legislative outcome as a bill that would repeal a law allowing the use of red light cameras circled the state Senate.
During a lengthy legislative session though, the measure failed in the Senate and Clearwater officials say they are moving forward with an initiative to find out how much it would cost to install and run red light cameras in the city.
Bidding for the project ended Tuesday.
“We will hear oral presentations in late June and make a recommendation to the council in July,” said Paul Bertels, the city of Clearwater director of traffic.
Clearwater city council from vendors to implement red light cameras at two high risk intersections within city limits in a 3-2 vote in March. Council members Paul Gibson and vice Mayor George Cretekos voted against the measure.
The request for proposal defined a qualified bid as one that would be cost neutral to the city, a stipulation that means the city will not see any out of pocket expenses, and come with a 90-day termination clause.
But that recommendation does not necessarily mean the preferred vendor will get the contract. Once a recommendation is made, city council members still have the opportunity to reverse the decision to move forward and install the cameras. Bertels does not anticipate a change in votes among council members or Mayor Frank Hibbard.
It is uncertain at this time whether this project will get the green light or not, but if it does the city already has two locations planned for the cameras. Both locations fall on busy Belcher Road at intersections at Sunset Point Road and Gulf to Bay Blvd.
The cameras, if installed, will produce high resolution images showing vehicles both before and after reaching the intersection’s stop bar and also will provide video of the entire infraction. Those images and videos would be viewed by a vendor specialist before being verified by a designated police officer or other qualified person.
Red light cameras have been something of a controversy in recent months. St. Pete Beach Mayor Steve McFarlin will replace former Mayor Michael Finnerty’s yes vote with a no, a change that will stop red light cameras from being installed there.
Controversy has also presented itself in New Port Richey where countless infractions have been contested by motorists.
Gulfport, however, hasn’t seen the same level of outrage over its new program.
In late February, Gulfport began sending notices to drivers who had committed an infraction. Sgt. Mike Vandenberg of the Gulfport Police Department said some people have complained, but most realize there is nothing to argue once they view the pictures and video that is made available to them.
“We’ve only been up and running for roughly 45 days, but already we have issued 1,122 tickets and are in the process of reviewing over 600 more,” Vandenberg said.
Carolyn Hale received one of those citations. She’s an assistant teacher at nearby Gulfport Elementary School, and not someone who seems the type to blow through a red light. But she did and isn’t afraid to accept responsibility.
“I was mad at first. I didn’t think I ran the light,” Hale said. “I went to the website and watched the video and, well, I was guilty.”
Hale paid the fine right away, but she represents a situation that many argue is a flaw in red light camera citations. The ticket didn’t go to her, it went to her mother who is the registered owner of the vehicle. Hale just happened to be driving.
So what happens then? Who pays the ticket when the registered owner and the driver aren’t one and the same?
According to Bertels, state law requires that a system be in place to allow registered owners to pass the buck, literally. The vehicle owner can submit a notarized document stating who was driving the vehicle at the time of the infraction. A citation will then be issued to that driver.
Stretching the limits of traffic laws is something that is also considered when issuing citations since California rolls don’t just happen in California.
“Driver’s won’t get a ticket for turning right on red,” said Clearwater councilmember John Doran. Drivers who are in an intersection when the light turns red due to turning left would also not be cited Doran said.
Some opponents also are concerned that red light cameras are initiated not as safety precautions but rather as a revenue maker.
Doran does not think so.
“Our hope is that, overtime, fewer and fewer citations will be issued," he said. "When the city stops making money is when the program has been truly successful."