Cities Seek Return of Power to Set Speed Limits

Times Staff Writer

Thousand Oaks is leading a statewide fight to return control over local speed limits to cities, rather than relying on a state formula that gives speeders a hand in setting posted limits.

Adding muscle to its effort, the east Ventura County suburb successfully lobbied the California League of Cities to include the issue in its 2003 legislative agenda.

The speed limit resolution is one of 10 the statewide organization of municipalities will support this year if Thousand Oaks seeks to make it into law.

“This is one of the numerous quality-of-life safety issues ... we still have to address,” said Councilman Dennis Gillette, a retired assistant sheriff who serves on the league’s Public Safety Committee.


State law automatically places a 25-mph speed limit on residential streets, but speeds up to 65 mph are permitted on four-lane roads. On such major thoroughfares, speed limits must be set using traffic surveys that measure how fast most motorists actually travel.

Courts have ruled that setting the limit on such streets lower than the speed at which most people drive creates a speed trap, therefore radar cannot be used to monitor speed in such cases.

“The way we look at it, the speed limits are being set by the fastest 15% of the people,” said Deputy City Manager Jim Friedl.

Also, there are bicycle lanes along many of the affected streets, which make traffic potentially more dangerous for cyclists and for workers performing landscaping and road maintenance.


Although the city only sought to regain control over speeds on major arterial roads, the League of Cities -- in adopting a resolution in support of the issue in October -- expanded its support to include all roads.

While Thousand Oaks argues its goal is to enhance safety, the Automobile Club of Southern California fears other communities may use additional powers to lower speed limits to enhance revenue by creating speed traps.

“This could lead to every city setting their own limits, which was what it was like in the ‘20s and ‘30s before there were statewide standards,” said club spokesman Jeff Spring.