WENATCHEE — Voters in Wenatchee will not be voting on red-light cameras.
Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges on Friday ruled that a proposed measure for voter approval of the cameras is unlawful. He said the state Legislature specifically gave the power to regulate red-light camera use to city councils, and that such council action is not subject to direct voter approval.
Bridges’ ruling also prohibits Matt Erickson of Wenatchee from submitting voter signatures to the Chelan County auditor so the initiative could be placed on a ballot.
Bridges ruled, however, that Erickson may continue to collect signatures so he could submit them to the county auditor if Bridges’ ruling is overturned.
“Mr. Erickson, your appeal rights start now,” Bridges said at the end of his ruling.
The ruling followed two hours of testimony from Erickson, city attorney Steve Smith and Vanessa Power, a Seattle attorney representing American Traffic Solutions, the company that manages the red-light cameras for the city.
“I’m not really happy with this,” Bridges said from the bench after the ruling, and he noted that his job is “to follow the law.” He addressed Erickson: “I have the utmost respect for you and your passion.”
Outside the courtroom after the ruling, Erickson said he plans to continue to collect signatures and expects to appeal.
The ruling ends a lawsuit filed in March by the city and American Traffic Solutions that sought to end Erickson’s efforts to place Wenatchee Initiative No. 1 on the ballot. The lawsuit was filed in response to Erickson’s efforts, which began in January, to collect enough signatures so voters could determine if the city should use red-light cameras.
At issue was a city ordinance, enacted in 2009, that authorizes the city to set up cameras to catch people who are running red lights. The cameras are set up at Kittitas and Mission streets, Chelan and Orondo avenues, and Chelan Avenue and Fifth Street.
The initiative would have:
• Repealed the city ordinance allowing the red-light cameras.
• Required city officials to get voter approval if they want to try to reinstate red-light cameras in the future.
• Limited the amount of fines for red-light camera tickets to no more than the least expensive parking ticket imposed in the city. That is a fine of $30. The fine for running a red light is $124.
• Required a two-thirds vote of the City Council for cameras to operate if voters approve the use of them
The city’s lawsuit stated that:
• State law gives the city the authority to enact the red-light camera ordinance and the proposed initiative would improperly interfere with that.
• The proposed ordinance does not meet the requirements for inclusion on a special election ballot. That ballot, the complaint contends, should be limited to tax levies that previously failed within the calendar year, and new bond issues.
• The proposed initiative would interfere with the city’s contract for red-light cameras with American Traffic Solutions. That contract runs through March 26, 2014.
After the ruling, the city attorney said he was happy with the decision because the opposite ruling would have jeopardized other city council decisions such as those on zoning codes.
Regardless of Bridges’s ruling, it is doubtful Erickson would have collected enough signatures to place the measure on an upcoming ballot. In an email he sent Friday, he said that because of the time he has spent fighting the city’s lawsuit “our signature-gathering efforts suffered terribly. For all practical purposes, we’ve made little progress in the last two months, and have far to go.”
Outside the courtroom, Erickson said he was “disappointed but not surprised” with the ruling. He said he has seen “a widespread pattern to nullify local authority and silence the voice of the people.”
If Erickson appeals, his will not be the only red-light camera issue going before a higher court. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday on the red-light camera controversy in Mukilteo.
Dee Riggs: 664-7147