Wu: Measure doesn't need to hit the ballot

We, the people, elect our leaders, our City Council members, to make decisions on our behalf.

Through their laws, we elect them to make the difficult decisions for the people to keep society from descending into a "Lord-of-the-Flies" state of chaos.

We trust them to protect us from non-Newport Beach locals (banning the Corona del Mar fire pits), we trust them to protect us from other Newport Beach locals (no organized coaching of our children in public parks), but most of all, we trust them to protect us from ourselves (no smelly Jack Wu types in the library).

But what if the council can't be trusted to protect us from themselves?

Well, that's what ballot box legislating is. When a council feels that a decision is too difficult to make on its own, it "punts" and puts the issue on the ballot.

The city of Tustin recently did this by putting on the November ballot a measure that will allow voters to decide whether to eliminate all forms of compensation for council members, while in contrast, the Orange City Council, because they are capable of making difficult decisions by themselves, voted to take away their own compensation.

So now Newport Beach is going through its seemingly bi-annual task of cleaning up its city charter, where any changes made will have to be approved by the electorate in November. Most of the potential changes are primarily housekeeping items, things that need to be updated for the 21st century.

But Mayor Pro Tem Keith Curry decided to throw in one of the most random, most non-significant, most unlikely scenarios known to any municipality in the past decade.

Community watchdog Jim Mosher put it best after the most recent council meeting.

"As you may have heard, at Tuesday's council meeting Mayor Pro Tem Curry brought the charter issues facing Newport Beach into sharp focus," he said. "It is not whether an expense stipend should entitle council members to fringe benefits. It is not whether the council should be available to citizens twice a month. It is not whether contracts with sitting council member's firms should be illegal. It is not whether citizens should be able to file class action claims.

"It is none of the 34 things the committee considered. Instead, it is: red light cameras! We can have total trust in the prudence of future councils with respect to everything else, but we can't trust them on red light cameras."

Were we in risk of getting red light cameras in Newport Beach?

No, according to Newport Beach City Manager David Kiff, who said, "a number of companies contacted the city a while back to see if we'd be interested in installing them as revenue-raising measures, and at the time we said no."

Costa Mesa used to have a few red light cameras, but pulled them all out in 2010 after almost a decade of an absolute mess, refunding more than 779 red light citations and getting slapped around by the Orange County Superior Court Appellate Division in 2005 for violating the state code by failing to provide 30 days' notice for putting the camera up as well as for improperly allowing another agency to control and set signal timing.

Costa Mesa, in its own report, even determined accidents in red light camera intersections increased by 13% while intersections without red light cameras saw a 5% decrease.

So because of Curry's desire to ban red light cameras in Newport Beach's charter, we have to assume that the council is actually considering them. But if this current council is against them, will the idea of increasing accidents by 13% in certain intersections be so attractive to future councils that red light cameras have to be singled out and banned forever by a majority vote from the Newport Beach electorate?

However, there is nothing funnier than seeing a picture of someone you know (in my case, my stepfather) in a red light camera's ticket, so maybe just for kicks and giggles, it would be fun to have one up for a month or so, but only around the new Civic Center.

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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