An 18-month, nearly single-handed push by a Murrieta resident has prompted voters to pull the plug on red-light traffic cameras that have operated for years in the city.
“I do feel like David and Goliath on this,” said Diana Serafin, who launched a drive to put the controversial ticketing cameras on a city ballot. “It’s a victory for the citizens and I am excited about that.”
Nearly 67 percent of the city voters favored Measure N, which called for ending and banning the ticketing program. Murrieta will now join Houston, Loma Linda, Anaheim, Albuquerque and more than a dozen other cities across the nation in banning the devices. Efforts are also under way to limit or remove cameras in Riverside, San Diego and other cities.
Serafin, who had attracted about six helpers, has cited concerns that drivers are unable to effectively challenge the tickets in court. She also criticized the rapid rise in ticket fines, which have climbed to $490 and are split with the state and the courts.
“It’s all about the revenue, not our safety,” she said in a Wednesday morning telephone interview.
Camera proponents have countered those arguments by saying the devices prevent traffic collisions. They also contend that the fines are “revenue neutral” for cities because police must review the identified violations and appear in court if drivers dispute the tickets.
Serafin said she and her group spent about $2,200 proposing, promoting and defending the measure from legal challenges. She said foes of the measure spent about $105,000 on court, attorney and campaign costs.
Voter approval of the camera ban further cements Murrieta’s reputation as a city where residents have used ballot measures to shape municipal policy. Council recall bids have surfaced periodically and voters overwhelmingly approved measures that imposed council term limits and created pay caps for elected officials and the city manager.
Temecula took the lead in examining the use of red-light cameras in March 2000, which is when city traffic commissioners expressed support for the concept. But fears of high costs prompted the Temecula City Council to abandon the red-light camera option in August 2003. At that time, city staff estimated that it would cost more than $600,000 over a two-year period to place cameras at several key intersections.
About that time, Murrieta and many other cities throughout Riverside County began studying and, in some cases, installing the devices that photograph drivers’ faces and license plates during traffic violations.
Murrieta’s decision to proceed while its neighbors did not landed the city at the center of the local debate over the contested law enforcement tool. The city stationed two red light cameras at key intersections on Murrieta Hot Springs Road east of Interstate 215 and another at Nutmeg Street and Clinton Keith Road.
Serafin said she hopes the election outcome – which must formally be endorsed by the Murrieta City Council – has erased any doubts over her determination to go the distance.
“Once I take something up I’m tenacious,” she said. “I’m like a dog with a bone.”