SAN BERNARDINO - The city's red-light cameras have gone black, one more effect of the city's bankruptcy.

City officials say they couldn't afford to keep making payments to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions without even steeper cutbacks than the ones already made in what they call a bare-bones budget passed as the city works through bankruptcy court.

And so the company pulled out the cameras, which photographed vehicles at major intersections and mailed tickets to anyone running a red light.

That's just fine with some City Council members.

A council majority voted to end the contract in 2011, but changed its mind when American Traffic Solutions said ending the contract before July 2014 would cost $1.9 million, or about $1.8 million more than they had previously been told.

Operating the system for fiscal years 2012-13 and 2013-14 was projected to cost $835,740 in an earlier report by the city's Police Department, which runs the program.

"This councilman is happy to see them leave," said Councilman Chas Kelley, who opposed the original contract. "They were a deterrent to commerce ... and 60 percent of the tickets were for right-hand turns (on a red light), which you and I can do in any other city but we used to nickel-and-dime students and residents."

Many local cities have attempted to back out of contracts with red-light camera companies after failing to make money from them or hearing complaints from drivers, but have changed their minds after seeing steep financial penalties associated with the change.

Representatives of American Traffic Solutions didn't return a phone call or e-mail, but they point to studies suggesting the cameras improve safety. Opponents say they actually increase accidents, because those who would run a red light when it's dangerous still will, while cautious drivers will slam on their brakes to avoid a ticket and get hit from behind.

The decision to stop paying the bill was purely financial, said Police Chief Robert Handy.

"There definitely is some benefit to a red-light camera program, but for us right now, financially, it doesn't make sense," Handy said.

Maintaining the program had required one fulltime person plus some work by other Police Department employees, and lost money for the city overall because most of the ticket fee went to the company, Handy said.

To help the city eliminate a $45.8 million deficit, the Police Department eliminated 63 of its 104 nonsworn positions - non-officers, including people responsible for administrative work like processing camera paperwork - and will not replace officers leaving the department until only 260 are left.

No additional officers are slated to cover the intersections where cameras were installed.

"If we see an increase in accidents or something like that (we'll assign someone), but we don't have any immediate plans," Handy said.

The city's pendency plan - the budget for the duration of its bankruptcy, passed in November - cuts the deficit through nearly $26 million in reductions and $34.9 million in deferred payments. Stopped payments to American Traffic Systems are not mentioned in the document, but the city's bankruptcy attorney reportedly began negotiations with the company this fall.

"We stopped paying them, so they made the decision to pull them out," said City Attorney James F. Penman. Courts have been dismissing cases since the cameras were removed, he said.

According to a document filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside, American Traffic Systems has a $1.67 million claim against the city, making it the 13th-largest creditor.

Courts prevent anyone from suing a city while it is in bankruptcy court, with certain exceptions.


Contact Ryan via email, by phone at 909-386-3916, or on Twitter @sbcitynow.