Red-light cameras a step closer to landing on Longview ballot

2011-05-23T20:45:00Z 2011-11-08T23:29:53Z Red-light cameras a step closer to landing on Longview ballotBy Erik Olson / The Daily News Longview Daily News
May 23, 2011 8:45 pm  • 

Opponents of Longview's red-light cameras said Monday they submitted 3,628 signatures to City Hall seeking to put the issue on the ballot.

City officials said they must determine whether the initiative is legal before submitting it to voters. Even though the City Council won't make any decision until Wednesday, just the possibility that the city may block the initiative riled critics.

"The city has declared war on the people, haven't they? It's quite outrageous. It's quite the slap in the face," said Mike Wallin of Longview, one of the initiative's leading proponents.

Dubbed Longview Initiative No. 1, the measure would bar the city from issuing traffic tickets to red-light runners caught on cameras without a two-thirds vote of the City Council and voter approval. The city has installed eight cameras at three intersections on Ocean Beach Highway.

The initiative would overturn the City Council's 6-1 vote last August authorizing the city to launch the camera program, which also includes cameras to enforce speed limits near Columbia Valley Gardens and Mint Valley elementary schools.

Marilyn Nitteberg-Haan, Longview's city attorney, said the initiative may violate a state law specifically granting cities authority to approve traffic-safety measures such as red-light cameras. Such actions therefore may not be subject to voter initiative, she said.

The City Council will hold a special session 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in council chambers to vote on an ordinance that would invalidate the initiative, Nitteberg-Haan said. The meeting is open to the public. If the council votes yes, the city would take the issue to Cowlitz County Superior Court to block the initiative from appearing on the ballot, she said.

If the council votes no, then city officials would submit the initiative to the county elections office to determine whether the signatures are valid, she said.

"At this point, we're just considering the next steps we're going to take," Nitteberg-Haan said.

Red-light camera opponents demanded the city submit the initiative to election officials immediately. They vowed it would become a campaign issue during the November council elections, when four of seven council positions are up for election.

Tim Eyman, the state's best known initiative hawk who joined the anti-camera campaign earlier this year, said he plans to bring a group of supporters to the Wednesday meeting to urge council members to keep the initiative alive.

"It is a despicable act of arrogance to spit in the eye of the electorate you are elected to represent," Eyman said.

The city installed eight cameras that went live Feb. 14. The cameras caught 426 red-light runners in the first month, more than all of 2010 citywide.

The violators paid $53,328 in fines, which did not include 303 tickets that were dismissed during that time because of a clerical error by the camera company.

Supporters of the red-light cameras, led by Longview Police Chief Alex Perez, say they make Longview streets safer, but opponents argue that the city's primary goal is raising revenue, not safety.

If initiative backers are allowed to continue, they're in good shape to get on the ballot.

Wallin and fellow organizer Josh Sutinen of Longview say they needed 2,766 valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot. They submitted 3,628 on Monday. On average, initiative campaigns statewide have an 18 percent error rate, which would leave initiative supporters with 300 more than required to qualify for the ballot, said David Ammons, spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed.

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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