Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg to cut red-light cameras by Sept. 30 — at the latest

ST. PETERSBURG — Almost three years after embracing red-light cameras, St. Petersburg is now the first city in the region to turn its back on them.

With a 6-2 vote, the City Council decided Thursday to kill the controversial camera program by Sept. 30.

If the city's 22 cameras, now placed at 10 intersections, fail to be profitable before that date, they will come down sooner.

"The program obviously had flaws from the beginning," said council member Wengay Newton, who finally prevailed in his years-long quest to get rid of the cameras.

Newton also thanked Mayor Rick Kriseman, who a day earlier issued a memo saying the city would get rid of the program if it no longer paid for itself, which officials projected would happen by the fall anyway.

It was a pivoting moment for the mayor, who has been a camera advocate for a decade. A week ago, he had talked of moving the cameras to other intersections.

At Thursday's meeting, Kriseman said his position on the cameras is the same — that they work — but the fact that there are fewer tickets and therefore less revenue shows the program has changed behavior. That, was the ultimate goal, Kriseman said.

In the final vote, council members Karl Nurse and Charlie Gerdes — who both have supported the cameras in the past — voted with their colleagues to kill the program. Council Chairman Bill Dudley and Jim Kennedy were the only two who voted against the measure.

Still unresolved, however, is the issue of refunds for hundreds of drivers who received violations for running red lights at intersections with improper yellow light times — an issue raised by local camera critic Matt Florell.

Florell told officials the mistake in timing on 34th Street intersections at First Avenue S, 22nd Avenue S and 38th Avenue N, meant tickets for about 2,500 people.

"If everything was working perfectly, they never would have gotten them in the first place," Florell said.

Several council members have said they are open to the idea of refunds, but it's unclear how the city would do that, given that it only keeps about $21 of the $158 ticket. The rest is sent to the state and the camera vendor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.

The council voted 7-1 to bring the matter up at a future workshop. The city's legal team was asked to provide options, which would likely include what, if any, portion the city could return. Some people have suggested just focusing on what the city kept, which, using Florell's figures, would equal about $52,500.

Kriseman has said he is against giving refunds.

Kennedy said he was surprised by the mayor's proposal this week. He and Gerdes both said they thought it was "inconsistent" to shutter the program in the name of revenue when officials have said the concern is public safety.

"To me, even if there's a small cost to them, it's all about safety," Kennedy said.

St. Petersburg has had its cameras since 2011, and scrutiny of them has rarely ceased.

In the first two years, the cameras generated $841,862 for the city's general fund, according to a report released in January. Crashes at intersections fell and so did tickets.

Recently, officials began asking when the program would cease to pay for itself. Nurse expressed concern that in January, for example, there were only 1,043 citations issued, netting the city about $11,000.

Other cities have seen similar patterns, but have not gotten rid of them altogether (although this week, the Brooksville City Council declined to extend its contract with camera vendor Sensys America.)

In Tampa, officials actually added more cameras recently.

"We have no plans to get rid of the red-light camera program," Tampa city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said Thursday. "They are changing behavior and keeping our roads safer."

From late 2012 through the end of 2013, the number of cameras deployed in Tampa rose from 33 to 42, but both the number of citations issued and net revenues to the city generally declined. Net revenues for the month of December were $26,104, the lowest recorded during that 15-month period. By comparison, the month with the highest net revenue to the city was May 2013, with $241,986.

ATS, which also has the Tampa contract and several others in Florida, said St. Petersburg's program worked. "It's somewhat ironic that the same individuals who complain that cameras generate too much revenue are the same individuals that oppose them when they don't generate enough," spokesman Charles Territo said in a statement.

St. Petersburg council member Darden Rice said she believes that the argument for red-light cameras is powerful but that the city could have managed the program better.

"All of us up here are concerned with public safety," she said. "But we're also concerned with something else: fairness, trust and perception."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow her on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.

 
Comments
Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays first baseman Jake Bauers sat at his locker after Sunday afternoon's 7-6, 12-inning win over the Yankees and thumbed through his text messages. There was no way he could get through them all. That's what happens when ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays journal: Yarbrough comes through, Venters to DL, support for Ramos

Rays journal: Yarbrough comes through, Venters to DL, support for Ramos

ST. PETERSBURG — Ryan Yarbrough was only supposed to throw on Sunday if it was an emergency. In the 12th inning with the score tied 6-6 and a runner on first, there was an emergency.Jonny Venters tweaked his right hamstring trying to cover firs...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hit-and-run driver plows into New Tampa family on bike ride

Hit-and-run driver plows into New Tampa family on bike ride

A Tampa man suffered life-threatening injuries and his 3-year-old son is in serious condition after being struck by a hit-and-run driver as they went on a family bike ride Sunday afternoon."This is a family in a very tough situation," Tampa police Ch...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays season turning into good one

Rays season turning into good one

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays are not the best team in baseball. They are not going to win the World Series this year. Heck, they probably won't even make the playoffs.But I tell you what. This team is a heck of a lot of fun to watch.And ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

TAMPA — Every year during draft season, local players from the Tampa Bay area are selected in the NFL, MLB and even NBA drafts.But hockey?Sure enough, in the third round of Saturday's NHL draft, the Winnipeg Jets selected Nathan Smith, a forwar...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Suspect dead, 2 injured in St. Petersburg home invasion-turned-shooting

Suspect dead, 2 injured in St. Petersburg home invasion-turned-shooting

ST. PETERSBURGSuspect dead, 2 injured in home invasion, shootingThree people forced their way into a St. Petersburg house before dawn Sunday before gunfire broke out, killing a suspect and injuring two residents, police said.About 5:30 a.m., the peop...
Updated: 2 hours ago
A jogger accidentally crossed into the US from Canada and was detained for two weeks

A jogger accidentally crossed into the US from Canada and was detained for two weeks

The coast of White Rock, British Columbia, in western Canada looks to be an ideal place for a run, with its sweeping views of the Semiahmoo Bay to the west and scores of waterfront homes and seafood restaurants to the east. Thatís what 19-year-old Ce...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

TAMPA ó Stripped to the girders, the old Bromley office building looked about as substantial as fish bones on a dinner plate.But the 5-story structure proved Sunday it still had a surprising amount of fight left in it.A demolition team had planned to...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Head-on crash kills Pasco teenager, injures three

Head-on crash kills Pasco teenager, injures three

NEW PORT RICHEY ó A 19-year-old driver died in a three-car crash on Moon Lake Road on Saturday afternoon, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.Jillian Faith Hitt, 19 and of New Port Richey, was driving north on the road in a 2008 Hyundai Accent, weari...
Updated: 7 hours ago
President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

STERLING, Ill. - As a longtime editor of small-town newspapers, Jeff Rogers has seen his industry face the collapse of print advertising, the rise of the internet and more. Today, his 18 employees work in a newsroom here that puts out two daily newsp...
Updated: 7 hours ago