Los Angeles’ red-light camera debate rolls on

The question of red-light cameras in Los Angeles was transformed Wednesday from a knotty policy issue into a full-blown summer saga, with the City Council hopelessly deadlocked and debate expected to drag on for weeks.

During the council’s third discussion of the program in six days, neither side gained ground. After a chaotic flurry of votes, during which two council members said they had accidentally voted the wrong way, neither side had a majority and the matter was sent to Councilman Bernard C. Parks’ budget committee.

Of the 4,683 intersections in the city that have traffic signals, 32 are equipped with cameras.

Parks said he believed a decision to end the camera program — sought by the Police Commission two weeks ago — could cost as much as $3 million. And he promised that once his committee finishes its review, the issue will return to the council for more debate.

Wednesday’s drama began when Councilman Tony Cardenas, trying to keep the camera program alive, asked his colleagues to postpone further debate until July 26, five days before the program is slated to end. That motion passed on an 8 to 6 vote.


Moments later, Councilman Greig Smith said he had voted the wrong way and meant to vote no. The council’s voting machines are programmed to vote yes automatically unless members indicate otherwise.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Smith explained afterward. “Honestly, it went so fast. I was like, ‘Wait, wait.’”

Smith asked his colleagues to conduct another vote, and after a second try, Cardenas’ proposal failed on a 7 to 7 tie. (Eight votes, or a majority, are needed for a proposal to be approved.)

Councilman Dennis Zine, an opponent of the cameras, then pushed for the program to be killed outright. That proposal passed on an 8 to 6 vote. But then Councilman Jose Huizar said he too had voted the wrong way.

Huizar complained that he was having problems with the voting machine and voted yes when he meant no. “The thing malfunctioned,” he said.

Huizar, who had voted Tuesday to kill the cameras, sought to change his Wednesday vote, ensuring that the camera program would stay alive for another month. To make sure there were no more holdups, council members stopped using their computers entirely and held a voice vote.

Zine’s proposal to kill Cardenas’ motion — and therefore halt the camera program — failed 7 to 7.

Huizar said he saw nothing contradictory in his two votes. The councilman said he still wants to kill the camera program because the contractor that operates them, American Traffic Solutions, is in Arizona. Months ago, the council imposed a boycott of Arizona goods and services to protest that state’s immigration laws.

Despite those views, Huizar said council members have a longstanding practice of honoring the wishes of colleagues who want to postpone a vote.

Backers of the camera program say it is a crucial public safety tool, while opponents call it expensive and unfair to motorists. On Tuesday alone, the council members spent 90 minutes debating the issue.

Lobbyists for American Traffic Solutions have worked doggedly to keep the camera program alive, appearing repeatedly at City Hall. When the council voted to send the camera issue to the budget committee, the company’s lobbyist sat quietly in the chamber’s fifth row.