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California: Court Rulings Deprive Some Red Light Camera Programs of Profit
Santa Ana, California pays Australian company more money than it earns from red light camera due to anti-cost neutral court ruling.

Santa Ana, California
The Orange County, California Superior Court is making it difficult for Santa Ana to turn a profit on its red light camera program. From November 2009 to February 2010, the city lost a total of $145,414 on automated ticketing, meaning the city's Australian camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, is walking away with $400,000 in general taxpayer money every year. The nearby city of Anaheim, which has nearly the same population, made a profit of $41,584 from red light running tickets over the same period. Anaheim not only has no red light cameras, a public referendum has been set to ban them for good in November.

Santa Ana's monetary loss comes despite charging motorists one of the steepest fines in the country -- $450 for every ticket that Redflex issues. The resulting revenue is split between the state, county and municipal governments. According to the city's contract, Redflex receives $5370 a month for each of the twenty intersection approaches equipped with a camera. In November, for example, Santa Ana collected $83,653.70, according to court records, while paying $104,767.47 for red light camera operations. The net loss of $21,113.77 compares unfavorably to Anaheim, which made $10,249.74 from police officers issuing traditional citations at intersections.

Many cities try to avoid running a money-losing photo enforcement program by adopting so-called "cost neutral" contracts where the private ticketing companies guarantees that a city will only profit, not lose money, from the automated ticketing machines.

That option is not available to Santa Ana. In December 2008, the county's appellate division court ruled "cost neutral" contracts were illegal (view ruling). Santa Ana also was forced to shut down its program for thirty days to comply with the ruling of Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Kenneth Schwartz who declared the city's program in violation of a number of provisions of state law (view ruling). Instead of providing notice each time the city added photo ticketing to an intersection, as required by statute, Santa Ana made a single announcement in 2003 with the intention of moving cameras to new intersections within the city limits whenever a particular location failed to generate sufficient revenue.

Santa Ana's contract with Redflex expires in June.

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