By Ryan Wynne
Initiative activist Tim Eyman joined forces with some local liberal voices at the Nov. 22 Bellingham City Council meeting. The unlikely union came together to oppose the installation of traffic cameras in the city.
Still, council voted 6-1, with Councilman Seth Fleetwood opposing, to approve a 12-month traffic camera trial at four intersections and two school zones.
The cameras have been a topic of contention for residents, who were joined out-of-towner Eyman to express concerns about the surveillance.
Some residents said this is just another attempt by the city to compensate for lagging revenue. Initial implementation costs for viewing stations and other computer software are estimated at $18,000, and cameras are expected to bring in an estimated $500,000 in revenue in 2011, with tickets ranging from $124 to no higher than $250.
Others residents went so far as saying the move would too closely link government policy and profits to corporate profits because the city would be paying a corporation, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, to monitor traffic. Not only that, residents also wondered whether that corporation would receive a percentage of revenue garnered by tickets issued as a result of the cameras.
Councilmen allayed those fears stating the corporation would receive a flat price, and some even expressed their frustration with the offensive notions that they were in cahoots with the corporation and would install cameras to make money.
“It’s not about money. It’s about public safety,” Councilman Terry Bornemann said at the meeting, adding that the areas where cameras will be installed at difficult intersections and problem school zones.
Bornemann said he trusts Bellingham police officers, and they have shared accident statistics showing traffic violations in those areas.
One intersection that will soon be mounted with a camera is at East Holly and North Forest streets. That intersection was observed for 7.2 hours, during which 30 red-light running violations were noted, according to a Bellingham Police report. That report also says 52 speeding violations of seven miles-per-hour or more occurred in one monitored hour in the Alabama Street school zone, which will also soon be hooked up to the city’s monitoring system.
Residents also expressed frustration about the whole process. Several were upset because a public hearing on the issue was never held. Council had scheduled one for Oct. 4, but cancelled it due to the death of Anna Brulotte, a local toddler who was killed by a vehicle while walking across the street in a crosswalk with her mother and two siblings.
Anna’s mother, Melissa, spoke at the Nov. 22 meeting in support of the cameras, which she said could help prevent accidents like the one that killed her daughter.
Melissa gave a graphic description of that accident and asked council to support the ordinance.
“No one is immune to 5,000 pounds of metal,” she said.
Although councilmen said e-mails they received regarding the cameras have been evenly split for and against, few others spoke up in support of the ordinance.
Taking the public hearing complaint a step further, Eyman said voters should get to decide ― he was wearing a blue shirt that said, “Let the Voters Decide.” Results of that vote would likely be similar to those in Eyman’s hometown of Mukilteo, where 71 percent of voters approved installation of cameras, he said.
Another complaint stemmed from the very idea of camera surveillance. Residents said they didn’t like the idea that government would soon widen its surveillance of its citizenry, and that such power could be abused.
But the cameras would only be capable of capturing images of vehicles and license plates, councilmen said.
Still, the concept of a growing government lens was enough to persuade Fleetwood to vote no.
“It has been a difficult decision for me,” he said.
While Fleetwood found improved public safety appealing, he ultimately decided it shouldn’t come at the expense of more government infringement.
Public safety was a strong enough reason for other councilmen to approve the ordinance though. Among them was Michael Liliquist, who said the cameras would allow the city to better use its police force.
In addition to the intersection at Holly and Forest and the Alabama Street school zone, the school zone in the 3400 block of Northwest Avenue will be monitored, as will the intersections of northbound Meridian Street and Telegraph Road, southbound Samish Way at 36th Street and northbound Ellis Street at Lakeway Drive.