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Port Lavaca's red-light cameras are back in the spotlight

By Victoria Advocate
June 23, 2011 at 1:23 a.m.


The battle over red-light cameras in Port Lavaca is heating up again after a federal ruling on red-light cameras in Houston.

In January 2009, five red-light cameras were approved by the city council to be installed at five intersections deemed to be the busiest in Port Lavaca.

Fines totaled $278,840 from red-light camera citations that year. The city of Port Lavaca received $49,493 from those fines while Redflex, the company that maintains the cameras, took $172,220 leaving the remainder for other assorted costs.

Port Lavaca resident Carl Baugh became concerned about the cameras after he was issued a mailed citation for going through an intersection.

Since then, Baugh has been working to have the cameras removed. Baugh set up a Facebook page, PL Citizens Against Red Light Cameras, and collected more than 500 signatures on a petition to amend the town's charter earlier this year.

He submitted the petition in March, but the city council voted against putting the proposed charter amendment on the May election ballot, stating that red-light cameras are about safety, which falls under the jurisdiction of the city council.

City attorney Ty Zeller said they were waiting to see what the federal court ruled on the red-light camera issue in Houston.

The city of Houston put red-light cameras to a vote in a referendum last November.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes invalidated the vote that forced the city to turn off cameras because it was improperly placed on the ballot.

Both sides say the ruling has had an impact on the case.

Zeller said the judge's ruling has had an impact on Port Lavaca's stance on red-light cameras because Hughes found the issue should have been filed as a referendum instead of a charter.

Baugh said Hughes' ruling changes things because the judge ruled that traffic cameras could not be denied a vote based on impacting health and safety.

Baugh submitted a letter to the city council, requesting that they call a special meeting or put the charter amendment on the ballot for their next meeting. If they don't, Baugh said he is considering filing a lawsuit. He does not plan on submitting another petition as a referendum, he said.

"All we want is for it to go before the people to be voted on. Whether they vote it up or down, that's all we want," he said.

Port Lavaca city manager Bob Turner said they don't plan on responding to Baugh's request until they know how the ruling will affect them. He said it could change things, but they don't feel a need to rush.

"The ruling is not going to change anything, as far as the city is concerned with the present petition it has," Zeller said.

Turner agreed.

"It could, but we're going to wait and see. There's no reason to change right now."

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