The effort to permanently dismantle the city's red light camera system has come to a grinding halt with Mayor Annise Parker's decision to reinstate the program starting Wednesday. Following a brief period of equipment testing, violators will begin to receive tickets again — despite the referendum to turn the cameras off that Houston voters passed in November.
"This is a difficult decision," Parker says in a statement. "I have a responsibility to represent the interests of the voters, but I also have a responsibility to abide by the judge's ruling." Parker is referring to U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes' June ruling that November's referendum is invalid. Hughes' decision derives from a 30-day deadline for reversing an ordinance from its original passage. Houston City Council passed the original ordinance to use cameras to record cars running red lights in 2004, rendering last year's vote invalid, the judge ruled. (Click here to read the decision).
Parker says that the city will seek to appeal Hughes' ruling, which would give the voters' will a chance of still being recognized. First, the city must ask for permission to appeal the ruling from Hughes himself since it is an interlocutory ruling.
The mayor cites fiscal concerns as part of the reasoning for the immediate reinstatement:
The City just went through a very painful budget process in which nearly 750 employees were laid off and park, library and health services were cut back. We simply don't have the millions they claim we would owe for violating the court decision and our contractural obligation to American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Therefore, I have decided the fiscally-prudent path to take is to turn the cameras back on while also seeking a second chance for the voters in the courts."
Safety is also cited as a primary concern for bringing back the program. That translates to a potential musical chairs of red light cameras, in which the devices will relocate to more dangerous intersections following a study being conducted by ATS and the City.
Next, the City must ask Judge Hughes for permission to appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The face of the fight against red-light cameras belongs to attorney Paul Kubosh, who has vowed to maintain his attack against the system. Kubosh was in court and unavailable for comment at the time of the mayor's announcement.