BELMONT -- Signaling a possible mini-rebellion, Belmont has become the third Bay Area town since March to dump its red-light traffic camera program over doubts the devices make the streets any safer for drivers or pedestrians.

Following the lead of Hayward and Redwood City, the Belmont City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to can the cameras by the end of the month. Council members cited the confluence of a Chicago bribery scandal involving the cameras' operator and lack of data showing whether the approximately $480 tickets for running red lights improved safety.

"We're taking $1 million a year from hardworking people and distributing it to the government and this private Australian company," Belmont Councilman Dave Warden said. "There are no statistics that the cameras have done anything to improve safety at these intersections."

The cameras are concentrated in San Mateo, San Francisco and Alameda counties, while Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties don't have any. San Jose considered a pilot program in 2010, but put it on hold as staff and budget cuts hit the city, spokesman David Vossbrink said.

Anti-camera organizer Roger Jones, 63, of Fremont, sees the city defections as "a domino effect" that could signal the end of the "love affair" with the devices.

"The same arguments seem to work in one town as in another," he said. "What resonated in Belmont may work in Menlo Park."


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The trouble for Australia-based Redflex Holdings, which operates cameras in many Bay Area cities, has been growing since bribery accusations gained steam last year. Redflex has admitted a company executive provided "excessive gifts and gratuities" to a former Chicago transportation official. A reasonable person could have suspected "a bribery scheme existed," company President and CEO Robert DeVincenzi wrote.

The bribery scandal played a role in both Redwood City and Belmont's decisions to part with Redflex. Though it appears Hayward was motivated primarily by a study showing rear-end crashes had actually increased in most city intersections policed by the cameras. The Hayward City Council voted in March to stop the camera contracts as soon as possible.

The cameras have always incited debate, with opponents accusing cities of using them to pad their budgets. In Oakland alone, red-light cameras generated about $1.1 million for the city in the four years leading up to late 2012. But police and council members in most cities have pointed to the devices impact on public safety.

In fact many cities, including San Francisco, Millbrae, Fremont and Daly City, have not announced any plans to cut their cameras. San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said her city uses them to make up for having fewer officers working on traffic enforcement.

"We will continue them as they are an important part of our traffic safety (efforts)," she said.

But Jones, organizer of the Redlight Camera Protest Group, said there have been no studies clearly showing the cameras prevent collisions. It's a fact some had not questioned until recently.

Belmont Councilwoman Christine Wozniak said that after learning about the Redflex scandal, she began to think differently about the lack of data. In fact, she said, the only reason she had once supported them was the belief they would keep pedestrians safer. Added to that is the feedback she has received from residents.

"All the feedback -- or 99 percent of it -- I have gotten is negative," she said.

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.