Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority Responds to LAT Article on Stop Sign Cameras

Honestly, how the heck does anyone get a ticket when there's signs such as these up? Photo: Zach Behrens##http://laist.com##/LAist##

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times printed an eye-rolling article about the use of stop sign cameras to enforce safe street laws in the state parks surrounding the Santa Monica Mountains.  In response, the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority’s executive director, Joseph T. Edmiston wrote the following letter to the staff and board of the Authority.  It’s an instructive read, especially if the traffic scofflaw community decides this is their next battleground.

One of Edmiston’s main points is most interesting.  The cameras are set to only record people blowing through the signs, someone making a “rolling stop” wouldn’t be ticketed based on the cameras settings.

So the people complaining in the Times article are really complaining that they’re really bad drivers. – DN

Dear all,

Two things to report:

1. On the good news side, Friday we got notice that the Appellate Division certified for publication the decision in MRCA vs. Kaufman. That means this decision UPHOLDING ALL ASPECTS OF THE PROGRAM is binding precedent for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Attached is a copy of the opinion. (We got a copy of the decision and posted it here. – DN)

2. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times this morning had this really one-sided story. What the Times felt was newsworthy was violators getting angry when they are videoed blowing through stop signs (and who isn’t miffed at getting caught).

My favorite quote in this story is the guy who takes umbrage at getting 8 violations before he noticed the program. How about noticing the stop sign buddy?

This is a good opportunity to recap the program and the rationale for it.

First of all, for those who think the California rolling-stop is a basic civil right, we aren’t impinging thereon. The cameras are set so they don’t record anything under a certain speed. (For obvious reasons I can’t reveal that speed outside of closed session, but it is well below what most people would consider a good faith effort to “stop.”) Issuing a citation isn’t automatic. The citation is issued on an individual basis by a specially trained park ranger who is also a California peace officer. The standard is: If it were your eyes instead of the camera, would you have issued the citation? Ambiguities are resolved in favor of the driver. Moreover, there are no improper incentives. The camera company gets a fixed monthly fee, irrespective of the number of violations, and the park rangers are paid from an entirely separate fund.

It is worth remembering why the program was started in the first place. Neither of the two major areas with video enforcement was ever intended to be a public park. Temescal was a private church camp and Franklin was an L.A. Water and Power reservoir with public access prohibited. If these parks were to be constructed from scratch the layout would be much different—wider roads, better circulation pattern, separation of pedestrians from cars, etc. But that’s not an option now. The environmental damage of such an infrastructure retrofit would be too great, say nothing of public objection to “urbanizing” these rural retreats.

Temescal is a good example: In the mid-1980’s when the plan for Temescal Gateway Park was being considered one of the options called for realigning the road system and bringing it up to design standard for the volume of expected park visitation. There was unanimity within the Pacific Palisades community that a modern road system would destroy the very values for which the land was purchased. Some years later when the city realigned and improved the Sunset Blvd/Temescal Canyon Rd intersection, the local input committee that the Conservancy established, known as the Temescal Working Group, insisted that we promise not to use the city’s improvements as an “excuse” to widen the road! The two stop signs are only placed at intersections where there is cross traffic, hikers vs. cars. Each stop sign location has been validated by a professional traffic engineer.

Franklin Canyon is even worse of a problem. Up until the city of Los Angeles closed it to through traffic, Franklin Canyon Drive was one of the familiar cross mountain roads, a well known cut-off when Coldwater Canyon was jammed. However, the city’s closure didn’t stop the traffic, now the commuters just use the old private reservoir maintenance road which also serves as the internal park access way. Most all of you have been to Franklin Canyon, you know the physical impossibility of widening Lake Drive around the upper reservoir, you also know the practical impossibility of segregating cars belonging to park visitors from commuters, so we are forced to tolerate non-park traffic. Just like at Temescal, the photo enforced stop signs are placed only at points of significant cross traffic and each have been validated by the traffic engineer.

Video enforcement is working. Violations are down over 50% from pre-video levels. (We know this because the cameras ran for a baseline period before enforcement was initiated.) Given that we can’t have a park ranger assigned to each stop sign—there aren’t enough of them and they have other important duties—the video enforcement program is the next best thing for reducing agency liability and ensuring public safety.

To those scofflaw defenders who say we are “over-enforcing” because we haven’t had a traffic fatality, my only reply is “exactly.”

  • i used to commute by bike from beverly hills to encino twice a week and I always found Franklin canyon to be a traffic stress safe heaven from the constant onslaught of city traffic. Part of the safety is these stop sign cams. In that small park because of this system they have created a tranquil wilderness in the center or a often traffic clogged city. Although my ride would include many areas where  cars drive to close and roads are in dis reapair this park of my ride always made my day. I would often stop in the park for a bit to long to take in the view and catch myself running late because of that. 

    I applaud the job they are doing keeping these parks safe for all forms of transportation, weather your on your feet, on your bike or in your car you are safe in these parks. Good Job!

  • In my own personal view: I object to this sort of thing being done in a park. It makes visits there high-stress, whereas you should just be able to relax without the dramatic fear of a huge citation. I’ve never gotten a ticket there, but for me this sort of thing ruins part of the fun of the park every time I go. I think it’s the wrong way to raise revenue.  Further, I dislike the Executive Director’s tone in this email.  The park is an absolute treasure, and I just love it. But I really regret this sort of dramatic enforcement, however.

  • If you don’t want the stress of driving legally, then get out of the car.

  • Scofflaw offender Edmiston’s rebuttal is as myopic as the Times scofflaw defender article.

  • RichardC

    Wait, stopping at stop signs is stressful?

  • Peeeeceeee

    The Times isn’t the only entity engaged in eye-rolling around here. I certainly roll my eyes every time I see yet another impassioned defense of these borderline-unconstitutional revenue generating scams here on Streetsblog…

  • Douglas Welch

    Does the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority receive any income from the citations issued? If so, how much have their received in the last year.

  • Anonymous

    Just use retractable spikes instead!

  • If stopping a car stresses you to much. Maybe you should just walk instead (which is known to relieve stress).

  • In the story it says only 8% of their revenue comes from these tickets. They also say the big payoff is the reduction is stop signs being ignored. I believe they quoted like 50% reduction in one year. 

  • Dennis Hindman

    The red light cameras for the Orange Line BRT at Sepulveda Blvd recorded twenty red light violations a month, two years ago, and is now catching about two violators a month now. This was according to a worker for the red-light camera company that I talked to early today as he was routinely checking the film-based cameras.. The Orange Line has 12 intersections out of 24 with cameras and they are staying put according to him. He also told me that the Expo Line will have some red-light cameras.

    Some more tid-bits of info are that the lenses on these cameras cost $5,500 and the camera is the most expensive that Nikon makes at $6,500. Los Angeles was using a different company for their red-light cameras that were all digital. The Orange line cameras are all film based and are essentially all paid for due to the age of them.

  • Effelarr

    If stopping at stop signs and the looming threat of “dramatic enforcement” “ruins the fun of the park every time” you go, maybe you’re more of the NASCAR type. Seriously, exaggerate much?

  • El Barto

    All these scofflaw drivers blowing stop signs. They don’t deserve to have any car lanes. MUHAHAHAAHA

  • Dramatic enforcement? If by ticketing people not properly stop signs is “dramatic,” what would you say is a non-dramatic and acceptable to you enforcement of one of the most basic traffic laws? 

  • JGKCALA

      I had a different problem at a MRCA park.  I used my state parks
    parking pass thinking that was acceptable.  In retrospect I should have
    known better that the MRCA is not a state agency.  It’s a JPA of many
    government agencies.  But that’s not what I was thinking about when I
    hopped out of my vehicle after hanging my pass on my rear view mirror.  I
    was thinking about hiking in a place that looks a lot like a state
    park, is near state parks, and without stopping to reconsider, is run by
    a agency that seems awfully like a state agency.  Even the MRCA park
    rangers have the same looking outfits as the state parks.  The
    difference is in the badge.     I paid my ticket.  But I also
    made a request.  Would they please put up a sign in the parking lot that
    informs people that only MRCA parking passes be used, and not state
    parks parking passes.  I was told no.  It should be obvious.  I replied
    that signs are put up all the time when things should be obvious.  It’s
    called being helpful or avoiding any problems.  The answer was still no.

         The MRCA is probably one of the greatest agencies we have
    in the area.  It has amazingly talented and dedicated people working for
    it.   But I hope this article gives a little nudge to put a check on
    the apparently small stuff that makes a big difference about how the
    MRCA is viewed by the public.

  • 123

    A $175 ticket is highway robbery, as is a ticket from an entity that is operating outside DMV jurisdiction. The worst part is, I now get sick to my stomach at the mere thought of these parks. I went from telling everyone how great Temescal canyon is to telling everyone to stay away. The day I got my ticket I put extra money in the iron ranger to support the park. Now, I hate the park.  :(

  • 123

    A $175 ticket is highway robbery, as is a ticket from an entity that is operating outside DMV jurisdiction. The worst part is, I now get sick to my stomach at the mere thought of these parks. I went from telling everyone how great Temescal canyon is to telling everyone to stay away. The day I got my ticket I put extra money in the iron ranger to support the park. Now, I hate the park.  :(

  • Br_engineering

    The whole photo thing is illegal search without cause a violation of the US and state constitutions but what is to be expected when Guv replaces this CA Supremoes saying that prop 8 is unconstitutional.  This is the current gov mindset.  They work for us so let’s fire them by making the board elected and not appointed and get these crooks (built CA 2 thru the Angeles Forest) out on the trails and fireroads to get ready for the next fire.  The USFS burned down the Angeles Forest (note the station fire name because it was less than 2 miles from the firestation on a good road).  We need this MRCA to transfer fed lands to state so we can protect ourseleves from the fire-happy USFS.  Clearly the MRCA employees do not like their jobs and there are plenty of US citizens who would be happy to replace them that have not had jobs for 10 years because of the feds and state gov.

  • George Orwell

     Joseph T Edmiston has zero credibility. I just got a parking ticket at one of the parks, even though I had paid the correct fee in advance. Every single person there was outraged when they saw the ticket – people who did not come with me and did not know me – but I will have to pay it any way or risk trouble with the DMV.

    This type of thing is happening more and more often. People are getting unjust tickets so the county and county programs can find ways to squeeze money out of us.

  • Sharon

    “One of Edmiston’s main points is most interesting.  The cameras are set to only record people blowing through the signs, someone making a “rolling stop” wouldn’t be ticketed based on the cameras settings.” BULLSH*T. I just got a ticket in the mail and in the picture you can CLEARLY see my brake lights are ON. I was over the line a little, but that was after I already stopped at the sign. I had to keep “rolling” forward slowly so I could peek around the corner since you clearly can’t see!
    Also, BULLSH*T, is that if you want to contest the “ticket” you still have to pay the $175 first. 

    Be aware folks, it clearly states on the “ticket” this DOES NOT get reported to the DMV or any insurance agency. It is on NO WAY affiliated with the CA Vehicle Code. The ONLY penalty that can come from this is they could report it to a credit agency.

    The worst part of this money making scam is; if the ticket was under $100 I probably would have  just paid it without reading it all. But at $175 and knowing I didn’t “blow” through the stop sign!

  • Rick

     Adding my voice of discontent with MRCA after r my experience — a California roll and not an Edminston “blow through”.  I tell everyone I know that the park is a ticket trap and to avoid it. That’s too bad because it’s a nice place.  One other point — no other car or pedestrian is seen during the entire time my car is videotaped.  I’d think the MRCA would do a cost-benefit analysis of ticket fees collected vs  bad PR the engender.

  • 101

    All people offended by this great and greedy scam need to contact the Finance Department of the State of California and all legislators who support the Santa Moncia Mountains Conservancy and the MRCA .  Finance  Dept. http://mailinglists.dof.ca.gov/ needs to conduct an audit of the illicit game and investigate whose pockets are lined with the 2 plus million road trap scam.  Another interesting bit of research ought to be conducted on how this scam dissuades people from ever returning  to use public park facilities in direct violation of the purported mission of these agencies.  

  • Bobijo2

    My son and I concur – this is Bull—-!  We got to the top of the park and were lost.  we both received $100 tickets at 8:00 on a Sunday Morning – again, no blasting thru as we were lost and actually going about 5 miles an hour or less looking for a sign for the name of this Park.  We actually never saw anyone up there.  Everyone must have already received a ticket and were way down below the Park and walking up.  Now I have to pay the $200 to them instead of the World Wild Life Assoc  and the Cousteau Society,  where I am a longtime member.

  • Stop whining… Stop driving around looking for the names of parks (why did two people need to drive through the park in two separate cars? groan.) If you really want to support oceans and wildlife, then ride your bikes to the park, and to everywhere else.

  • PD

    Remind me not to vote for funding the Mountains Recreation & Conservation when it’s on the ballot.  What a $2.4 million scam!

  • Mountainhater

    Replying to BIKAS Los Angeles.  What a douche.  Who wouldn’t complain if they got slapped with $100 or $200 fines for a traffic violation by a non-traffic-related entity.  What a great way to encourage people to go to these parks.  Next time I go there I’ll make sure to park 30 seconds away on free street parking and make sure to litter while I’m in the park.

  • Dave

    This is a scam, racketeering at it’s worst possible form in uniform, badge and the guise of public safety.  Please note many comments on websites indicating that failure to pay and completely ignoring any communications regarding an automated violation from this agency will not have any penalty.
    The real solution is to follow the money. Find out who is profiting from this, expose them, and cut them off and it will go away. The comparisons between the MRCA infractions and the infractions on LA Red Light cameras are so striking (far more incidents in  MRCA) that the justifications are self serving so far beyond any possible reality as to be an embarrassment to anyone who buys one drop of this propoganda.

  • bruinjon

    So… Where is this sign posted? I didn’t see it…

  • James

    Contact numbers at the MRCA
    [content deleted – not appropriate to post civil servant phone numbers here]

    The MRCA is being very deceptive about their legal authorities as well as the actions they take through collection agencies to collect. I have yet to hear of anyone who has not paid these tickets that has been report to credit agencies or any information that they can legally do it.

    Sadly, the taxpayers are going to have to pay when they lose a class action lawsuit.

  • Cliff

    I got one of these once for a car I owned but was not driving in. It went to collections and I told the collection agency that the MRCA had no authority under the california vehicle code to issue moving violations and that I was never going to pay them and would take legal action against the collection agency if they tried to post the amount due to my credit report. I never heard from the collection agency again.

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