The city of Redmond will not forward a calling for a vote on the city's red-light camera pilot program, Redmond Patch learned Wednesday.
"We've been advised by our attorney that the subject of this petition is not subject to initiative," Redmond Mayor John Marchione said in an interview. "Therefore, there's no state law compelling us to do anything with the signatures."
Redmond resident Scott Harlan, the main organizer behind Redmond's petition drive, called the city's decision "shocking." Regardless of legal arguments surrounding the validity of an initiative, Harlan contends the city is taking an illegal action by failing to turn in the signatures to King County within three business days.
“The citizens of the city of Redmond should be shocked that at this early stage of the initiative process the mayor and the City Council are being this obstructionist,” Harlan said. “There’s plenty of time after the initiative is validated to have legal arguments ... yet they are stopping that conversation before it even starts.”
Harlan is basing his assertion on RCW 35.21.005, which states: "Within three working days after the filing of a petition, the officer with whom the petition is filed shall transmit the petition to the county auditor for petitions signed by registered voters, or to the county assessor for petitions signed by property owners for determination of sufficiency."
When asked whether he and his supporters plan to sue the city, Harlan did not rule out the possiblity.
“We’re looking at all options, including legal action,” he said.
Marchione said the advice of City Attorney Jim Haney was based on a recent ruling in Bellingham by Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals, which serves all of Western Washington between the Canadian border and the King-Pierce county line.
In Bellingham, voters will get to vote on a similar anti-traffic camera measure, but it won’t have legal standing after a panel of Court of Appeals judges ruled earlier this month that the measure isn’t valid. (See attached PDF for the complete ruling.)
Judge Marlin Appelwick said no injunction was necessary, since the initiative was not legally binding and therefore posed no threat of damage to the camera provider, American Traffic Solutions. In Appelwick’s view, the initiative has no legal force because it wrongfully aims to restrict the city’s authority to install traffic cameras, the Bellingham Herald reported.
According to the newspaper, the initiative measure intended to force Bellingham to remove any traffic-enforcement cameras, although none had been installed yet, and it would require voter approval of any plan to re-install them. It also would limit the fines imposed under the program to the equivalent of the lowest-cost parking ticket, currently $10.
Two days after the Sept. 6 ruling, an Appeals Court panel also denied another attempt to block the Bellingham measure from the ballot. See full coverage from the Herald here.
Marchione said Haney also advised city officials that the costs of any potential litigation that might result from their decision not to go along with the petition would be minor compared to the $70,000-$80,000 that a special election would cost.
He said the city has decided not to put the matter to a vote at this time because of the cost of a special election and the fact that the City Council is set to conduct its own review of the camera program later this fall. The city has signed only a one-year contract with its camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions (the same provider involved in the Bellingham case), and the City Council is scheduled to make a decision on whether to renew that contract sometime before Dec. 1.
Deputy City Administrator Jane Christenson said Redmond's decision to begin the camera enforcment program on a trial basis is unique among other municipalities in the area, and city officials believe it's important to follow out the evaluation process as originally intended.
Moreover, Christenson said, if the city decided to hold a vote in February 2012, as the petition stipulates, the council would have already decided whether to renew its contract with ATS.
"I think it goes back to why Redmond is unique," she said. "We knew we wanted to test (the camera program) out to see if it was right for our community. We're still in the midst of that pilot year, (and) we committed to folks all along on both sides of the issue that we're going to evaluate it in October 2011."
The city's evaluation process will continue next Tuesday when the public safety committee receives the most recent camera-enforced violation data from the Redmond Police Department. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the matter at its Oct. 11 study session, and could take action on the program as early as Oct. 18 or as late as Nov. 29, Marchione said.
Despite the city's decision not to turn in the 6,050 signatures to King County for a special election, Marchione said the petition does send a message to the City Council and will be considered along with other resident input as the process continues.
"We count these signatures as a legitimate voice in the public process," he said.
Patch associate regional editor Margaret Santjer contributed to this report.