WENATCHEE — Wenatchee officials plan to fight a petition against red-light cameras.
Wenatchee City Council members on Thursday voted to file legal action challenging the petition, which seeks to ask voters whether they want red-light cameras.
City Attorney Steve Smith said he plans to file the motion for declaratory judgment in Chelan County Superior Court sometime in the next couple of weeks. The motion will ask the court to review state and case law to determine whether the use of red-light cameras is subject to the initiative process.
Smith said he will also ask the court to issue a restraining order against the ballot measure if proponents gather enough petition signatures.
"Clearly the Wenatchee City Council and the mayor believe that the voters are on our side and that's why they are desperately trying to prevent voters from voting on it," said anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman, who is leading the petition effort in Wenatchee and three other cities.
Two weeks ago, a group of local critics working with Eyman told Wenatchee city officials that they will try to collect the 2,273 signatures they need to get Wenatchee Initiative No. 1 on the Aug. 16 ballot. The initiative seeks to repeal the city ordinance allowing the red-light cameras and would require city officials to get voter approval if they want to try to reinstate them in the future. It also would limit the amount of fines if the cameras are approved to no more than the least expensive parking ticket imposed in the city, which is $30.
The fine for running a red light now is $124. About 700 drivers a month have been ticketed for running red lights that were installed at three Wenatchee intersections last summer.
"I think it's an important source of revenue for them, so I'm not surprised they are turning every rock to keep them," said Matt Erickson, who is helping to lead the local petition drive.
Erickson said his group will kick off their signature-collecting this weekend with a booth at the North Central Home Builders Association Home Show at the Town Toyota Center.
Eyman said the city's challenge "only inspires us to work harder to collect those signatures."
Smith said the three other cities with red-light cameras targeted by Eyman's red-light camera petitions last month also plan to file legal challenges. The other cities are Bellingham, Monroe and Longview.
In a related court case, the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments later this year on a case involving red-light cameras in the city of Mukilteo. Last November, voters in Mukilteo approved an initiative to require a public vote on red-light cameras. A Snohomish County judge upheld the initiative process, and that decision was appealed to the state's high court.
But Smith said the court will not likely make a ruling before the August election date in Wenatchee.
Eyman said the Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of allowing the intiative process to go forward, rather than stop it.
Smith said City Council members asked him to look into the petition effort after proponents announced it last month. He said Thursday that it was his recommendation to the council to challenge the effort.
"We just need a correct legal opinion," he said.
"It will be good to have clarity for us," said Councilman Don Gurnard. "Hopefully the Supreme Court will make a decision, too."
During their annual retreat last week, several City Council members expressed their support for continued use of the cameras.
"We need them," Councilman Doug Miller said. "The safety part of it is a no-brainer. It's doing the right thing for the right reason."
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