Here’s the Chron story about the reinstatement of the red light cameras. A couple of points that need to be made:
Wednesday’s announcement provoked the full fury of Paul Kubosh, a lawyer who helped lead the petition drive to get the cameras banned. When reached for comment, he did not even wait for a question. “Start typing!” he said, and launched into a rant criticizing the decision.
“The mayor is going to ask for your vote in November. How can you possibly give her your vote when she does not respect yours?” Kubosh said. “She is not following the will of the citizens of Houston, she is following her own conscience.”
Kubosh repeated his accusation that the city shopped the suit in federal court in hopes of an unfavorable ruling that would compel it to turn the cameras back on.
Parker made the announcement flanked by Police Chief Charles McClelland and Fire Chief Terry Garrison, who both insisted that the cameras make the streets safer. Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, agreed.
“It’s good news because they reduce injuries,” Blankinship said. “The data clearly shows that serious injury accidents are reduced in those intersections when the cameras are there.”
Given that the issue is why the cameras were turned back on after the voters rejected them, the question about safety is completely beside the point. That issue was extensively debated last year, and the pro-camera forces lost. You can believe whatever you want about red light cameras and safety – the data is at best inconclusive, and nobody’s mind is going to be changed by another rehashing of the same arguments. In my opinion, bringing this up at all undermines the Mayor’s stated reason for turning the cameras back on, which is that we are basically forced to do so pending the appeal of the judge’s ruling, because it is a reminder of the losing campaign for the cameras.
As for Kubosh’s ranting, the irony is that if you accept the judge’s ruling – which is right here and is quite clear and concise and really ought to be read by everyone expressing an opinion about it – Mayor Parker should not have urged Council members to vote to put this referendum on the ballot in the first place. She should have told them to vote against it and provoked the fight we are now having last August. It was at the insistence of Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman that Council “supinely ignored – over the voices of some of its members – their responsibility”. If the Mayor ever chooses to directly respond to Kubosh, that should be the first thing she points out.
Now of course not everyone – certainly not most camera opponents – accept the ruling. When it gets appealed, and I do believe the appeal will be allowed to proceed, we’ll get to argue about why Judge Hughes was right or wrong to rule as he did. Some people, including Kubosh and a few of my commenters, have argued that it never should have been Judge Hughes to rule at all, that this case should have been heard by a state judge and not a federal one. I’m not qualified to address that point, but having read the ruling I don’t see why a state judge would have seen it any differently. I recommend you look at JJ’s comment, which addresses that issue, among others. If someone would like to explain to my non-lawyer self why the federal court was the wrong venue, I’d love to hear it. In the meantime, I’ll say again – read the ruling. It’s the only thing that’s relevant at this point.
UPDATE: Today’s Chron story discusses the choices the city faced after the election:
The city of Houston might have been able to shut off its red-light cameras within four months of voters demanding it in last November’s elections, but the Parker administration opted not to use an escape clause that would have meant more than $3 million in continuing costs while the clock ran out.
Eight months later, the city continues to grapple in court with the company that operates the cameras and contends that damages could reach $20 million over the life of the contract if the controversial devices are not reactivated.
Faced with that potential liability, Mayor Annise Parker declared on Wednesday that the cameras soon would resume issuing citations.
Instead of using its four-month escape clause in November, the city declared that the election immediately voided the contract and ordered Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions to shut off the cameras within days. Litigation ensued, of course.
And we know how that went. I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that people’s opinion of the city’s decision will correlate pretty tightly with their opinion of the cameras in the first place.