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City gets lots of green from red-light cameras

I realize Spokane is strapped for cash, but is Photo Red the way to get us in the black?

Come on. There must be more ways for a city to turn an honest buck.

Like prostitution, say. Or selling crack.

Or check this out. One of my colleagues came up with this positively brilliant idea to turn that old YMCA building everybody’s squabbling over into a casino.

Not only will gamblers be drawn to such a stellar Riverfront Park view, but I can see the mayor and City Council adding to the attraction by dealing blackjack or working the craps tables.

How great would that be?

Our leaders could finally say they were earning their pay legitimately.

But getting back to Photo Red – just weeks ago cameras went up at four more city intersections, designed to catch red light runners in the act. That brings the total up to seven intersections, and if you think it will end there you’re probably high.

Before this is over we’ll probably have cameras hooked to every stoplight in town.


Because Photo Red is the best damned cash cow Spokane ever had.

Get this. The city, according to a recent Spokesman-Review report, raked in a cool $103,000 profit from the 5,600 camera tickets issued during the program’s first year.

Oh, yeah. Photo Red is also supposed to be a big boon to public safety by citing red light runners.

But as our aforementioned story also pointed out, the first year saw accidents and injuries actually INCREASING at our original three candid camera crossroads.

I know I’ve said this before. But sometimes it truly amazes me that the rabble doesn’t occasionally rise up and storm City Hall with pitchforks and burning torches.

Maybe they won’t need to.

Local attorney John Clark, not a relative so far as I know, told me Wednesday that his firm is contesting Spokane’s Photo Red program. His opening salvo will be a series of motions scheduled to be heard Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom D of the Spokane County Courthouse Annex.

The case was researched by Caitlin O’Keefe, a second-year law student at Gonzaga University, and an intern at Clark’s Spokane Valley firm.

Clark plans to contest the legality of the officer’s signature affixed to a client’s camera ticket. Clark contends the signature is invalid under Washington law because it was applied electronically by the out-of-state firm that has the Photo Red contract with Spokane.

It strikes me as one of those niggling technical arguments. But the bottom line is that Clark is no fan of red light cameras for some very sound reasons.

All those cameras “make money like crazy,” he says, warning that a city’s rush to raise revenue “should not be at the expense of public safety.”

Clark points out that changing behavior, not making a lot of money, was the state Legislature’s original intent regarding red light cameras.

Furthermore, Clark says many of the tickets are issued not to blatant red-light runners, but to drivers who made slow, rolling right turns also known as “California stops.”

Aw, it’s anyone’s guess how this will shake out in a courtroom. But if our officials really wanted to do some good they’d look into installing a citywide camera system to keep watch on Spokane’s vast pothole problem.

Photo Mud, we could call it.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.

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