ST. PETE BEACH — Residents, tourists and visitors of St. Pete Beach can relax. They will not get an automatic traffic ticket if they stray a few inches over a painted stop line in St. Pete Beach after the light turns red.
That's what often happens when red light cameras are installed at intersections.
Nearby South Pasadena already has them, and St. Petersburg is planning to install cameras at multiple intersections this summer.
St. Pete Beach resident Pat Anderson recently got a $158 ticket from South Pasadena in the mail even though she wasn't driving her car at the time. Under the law, that doesn't matter. She owns the car, so she has to pay.
Anderson said she knows several elderly residents who received multiple tickets after trying to turn into Palms of Pasadena Hospital.
"Red light cameras are good in theory, but in practice it's much easier to get these tickets than you realize," she told St. Pete Beach commissioners Tuesday before the commission decided to repeal an ordinance to install red light cameras.
"We have a lot of people living on low fixed incomes. A $158 ticket is going to make the difference between groceries and no groceries for some of these folks."
The city's hoteliers are relieved as well at the commission's decision to abandon red light cameras.
"The city needs to be careful about the image we leave with our guests," said Tim Bogott, TradeWinds Island Resorts' chief executive officer. "Our community is clearly tourist driven, and it would be insensitive to become known as a trap."
John Marks, general manager of the Don CeSar Beach Resort, agreed.
"We all have to abide by the law, but in general, we would prefer that a tourist not get a ticket," he said.
That won't happen now that the commission reversed a decision made just a month ago and repealed its red light camera ordinance.
"I don't think red light cameras are merited in St. Pete Beach," Mayor Steve McFarlin told the commission Tuesday.
Commissioner Marvin Shavlan said he thinks the cameras can actually cause accidents and said the tickets are often successfully challenged in court.
Commissioners Bev Garnett and Al Halpern agreed.
"We don't have high-speed intersections that can create the T-bone crashes that result in fatalities or serious injuries," Halpern said.
The only commissioner still strongly in favor of installing red light cameras was Jim Parent.
"This is about public safety, pure and simple," Parent said. "It is sufficient that red light cameras might save more lives than not having cameras. To me that works. It's kind of like seat belts in cars — they are annoying but are worth it."
The city originally planned to install cameras on 75th Avenue at Blind Pass Road and Gulf Boulevard but delayed implementation until after the spring legislative session.
When American Traffic Solutions, a private Arizona company, originally pitched its camera monitoring services, the firm estimated that 1,800 tickets would be issued each month.
Although most of the revenue would go to the state and the company, the city would still get more than $3 million over five years, according to McFarlin, who called it a "hidden tax."
In the past month, many residents reported getting pro-red-light telephone calls, and apparently they were then immediately connected to elected officials.
"I received a call from a lady who said someone called her telling her why we should approve it (red light cameras)," Garnett told her colleagues.
Garnett said the resident told her that the red light camera caller had "patched her through" to Garnett's phone.
"I don't like this kind of marketing," said McFarlin, who received one of those calls himself.
McFarlin said he didn't know if the calls were from ATS or made on its behalf.