Siding with the city of Longview, Judge Stephen Warning ruled Monday that a citizens' initiative petition to revoke red-light and speed cameras is invalid — except for one section mandating an advisory vote on traffic cameras.
The Cowlitz County Superior Court judge said Section 3 of the proposed ballot initiative must be put to a public vote in November. Voters will be asked whether they want to require an advisory vote at the next general election on any ordinance adopted after Jan. 1, 2007, that authorizes the use of automatic ticketing cameras.
That ballot measure will be in addition to the two ballot propositions the Longview City Council ordered for November regarding the cameras. The city is holding separate advisory votes asking citizens if they want to keep the red-light cameras and the school zone speed cameras after the pilot program ends May 1.
If voters approve Section 3 of Longview Initiative No. 1, citizens not only would vote on keeping the cameras this November (the city's advisory vote), but in November 2012 as well (a result of Monday's ruling.)
Led by Longview residents Mike Wallin, Tim Sutinen and his son Josh Sutinen, camera opponents gathered 3,235 valid signatures this summer to qualify their initiative petition for a binding ballot measure repealing the new traffic camera program. Arguing that state laws shield a city's authority to set traffic regulations from review by ballot initiative, the city filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare the Wallin-Sutinen initiative invalid.
Monday, Judge Warning agreed with the city and said the legislative grant of authority precluded use of local initiatives and referendums.
Also, he said, courts generally should stay out of elections, but they're obligated to prevent elections on improper subjects. Warning said a city is entitled to avoid the expense of an improper election, and people who vote are entitled to know the consequences of marking their ballots.
"Nobody should have to vote under what ultimately could be false pretenses," Warning said.
The judge also dismissed Wallin's complaint that 17-year-old Josh Sutinen was not named as a party in the city's lawsuit. Warning said because Sutinen is a minor, he can be sued only through a guardian ad litem (a court-appointed guardian). While it's "laudable" that Sutinen is so interested in the traffic camera issue, "I don't think that makes him an indispensable party," Warning said.
After the hearing, Mukilteo activist Tim Eyman, who is involved in battles against red-light cameras in other parts of Washington, claimed victory because the people would get a vote.
"We just won the case," he said, standing outside the courtroom with Josh and Tim Sutinen.
Across the hall, a group of City Council members discussed the outcome.
"For me, the key issue is the legality of the initiative process," Councilman Chet Makinster said. "I wanted to see if we were following the law."
From Feb. 14 through July 31, the city issued 2,546 red light violations at three Ocean Beach Highway intersections. The city issued 1,581 school speed-zone violations from March through June 20, when the cameras were shut off for the summer, according to the police department.