Red Light Cameras Trashed, Legal Blunders Swept Under the Rug

Fullerton has terminated a dubious partnership with failing red light camera vendor Nestor Traffic Systems after the contract for operation of the cameras was declared to be illegal by an appeals court last year. It’s a long story, but stick with us as we tell this tale of inept vendor selection and blatant disregard for the law in Fullerton…

Why won't this thing turn on?
The end of an error

A long time ago, Fullerton signed a contract with Nestor Traffic Systems to provide red-light cameras throughout the city in an attempt to increase ticket revenue and reduce accidents at popular intersections. At the time, the contract included a clause that allowed the city’s payment to be negotiated down if ticket issuance was lower than expected.

Just about anyone could see that the vendor now had a financial incentive to keep the number of tickets high — that’s a problem. At the time, case law had already dictated that vendors could not benefit from the number of red light tickets issued. Eventually these rulings would become codified into state law.

When the city inquired about how this new California law might affect the contract, the vendor essentially said “Don’t worry, we’ll change it if we get caught.” Sound familiar? That’s how it goes in Fullerton. So our representatives carelessly signed on the dotted line and the police department kept giving out red light tickets illegally.

It didn’t take long for one angry citizen to file a lawsuit, and in 2008 an appellate court ruled that the tickets were being given out unlawfully. Issuance of red light tickets immediately stopped.

After the city lost the appeal, a whirlwind of suspicious events transpired:

  1. Failure to Appear – The city of Fullerton didn’t even know that they had lost the appeal until the Register called them for the story. It turns out that the city never showed up for the appeal. The city’s crack legal team at Jones and Meyers attempted to have the original ruling overturned by filing a 26-page Writ of Mandate in May. The request claims that the Fullerton PD was never serviced with a notice of an appeal, even though the court docket says otherwise. The PD’s request was denied, and that’s the last we’ve heard of the case.
  2. The Right to Remain Silent – For the council meeting on 2/3/09, the city staff put together an amendment of the Nestor contract to end the city’s lawbreaking ways, as other cities had already done. But when the item came up for discussion, city manager Chris Meyer mysteriously got cold feet and proposed that the item be moved forward “to a date uncertain”. The council instantaneously and unanimously agreed to put this item off without further questioning. In fact, the council moved so quickly that a gentleman named Dr. Arnold Vagts had to demand his right to speak on the issue later that evening. Why were they so quick to sweep this item under the rug? It turns out that Dr. Vagts had sent a series of emails earlier in the day threatening a class action lawsuit against the city, demanding that the city return all illegal ticket revenues to the victims. If not, the city risks “millions of dollars in lawsuits”, according to Vagts.
  3. In June, after months of silence, we’re finally told us that the red light camera contract with Nestor has been canceled, and that all of the cameras will be removed.

Last week our Friend at HighwayRobbery.net made a records request to find out how much the city had spent on legal fees to fight this lost case. In a written reply to a direct question, Sgt. Steve Williams said “No legal council (sic) was retained to prosecute the case by the Fullerton police department.” We believe this to be either a blatant misdirection or perhaps an outright lie, since the city’s contract attorney did write the aforementioned 26-page writ for the case. Lawyers don’t work for free.

How much is this legal wrangling costing us? Why is the city spending time and money to fight a lost court case? We suspect that the legal liabilities and risk of expensive lawsuits are piling up while the city tries to keep this issue quiet.

To top it all off,  a successful class-action lawsuit against the city would probably leave taxpayers holding the bill for years of red light revenue, as it is unlikely that the city will be able to turn around and sue Nestor for their part in this tragedy. The company has severe financial problems, including a recent descent into receivership and failure to pay subcontractors for the installation of additional cameras in Fullerton.

When we lose a class action lawsuit, who will pay? Will anyone admit error and appologize for wasting our time and money? Stay tuned as more scandelous details come to light.

Welcome to Fullerton; Home of The Double Play


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The City bought two “Go Titans” banners and posted them on the railroad overpass above Harbor Blvd. Great! We’re all for the Titans. Titan fans glory in our four College World Series championships. Some recall the 1978 basketball season when we were one point away from making the Final Four, and our 1984 football season when we were ranked in Sports Illustrated’s Top 25 for much of the season, with a final record of 11-1. Banners do liven up a city, inform the public and boost community spirit.

So, why the kill-joy sign still posted at Malvern & Euclid, on the flood control channel fence? malvern-euclid-click_dfbc06f8b92 Like a scolding nanny, it reads “Do Not Post Banners On Fence.” This has long been a convenient and inexpensive way for youth sports, churches and community groups to advertise their sign-ups and activities. It is hypocritical for the city to post a banner above Harbor, but ban signs at Euclid. If the Titans want to maintain baseball supremacy, the prospective Little League dad must know how to sign up his junior slugger—and for decades moms & dads read the banners at Euclid & Malvern for just such updated info.

Safety concerns must be weighed, but a loose banner above Harbor will fall onto oncoming traffic. A loose banner at Euclid & Malvern will fall onto the sidewalk—or into the urban runoff in the channel. At Euclid & Malvern, the fences are low enough so the banners aren’t blocking anyone’s and since their on the south side of the street, motorists don’t even need to look their direction to check cross-traffic.

do not postmedia-card-blackberry-pictures-img00471-500x375We’re all for a Titan banner on Harbor. But we’re also for the Little League and all manner of other banners on Euclid. That scolding warning sign is deterring community groups from getting their message out. You can bet it won’t deter politicians from their bi-annual blossoming of yard signs.

New Police Chief Promotes Open Government

In the spirit of open government, Fullerton Police Chief Mike Sellers made a promise to publicly disclose internal department policies and procedures on the city website.

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We're always looking for new Friends

Even before Chief Sellers joined the Fullerton PD last month, there were musings of his strong stance on community-oriented policing. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? After a month on the job, it was time to put the PD to the test.

I made a quick request for the department’s taser policy in preparation for an item on the council agenda that would allocate $40,000 for new tasers. Chief Sellers’ initial reaction was the best that we could hope for… his command staff even offered to bring the policy by my house so I would have it in time for the meeting!

Unfortunately, we suspect that someone else at the department noticed my FFFF membership card because officer friendly was then told to deny my public records request. Perturbed by this sudden reversal,  I informed the chief and city council that the issue would be brought up at the city council meeting that night.

By the time I had spoken at the meeting, Chief Sellers had taken a stand and informed everyone that internal department polices would be available to the public and posted online.

The Chief knows there are loopholes in public record law that allow police departments to shut out the public, but Fullerton can rest easy knowing that FFFF and Chief Sellers have solidified their right to observe the inner workings of our government. And that’s how it should be.

(More) Tasers About to Hit the Streets of Fullerton

Tonight, the city council will consider the acceptance of a $41,410 Justice Assistance Grant (Homeland Security stuff) to purchase 35 tasers for the police department. Do we need tasers in Fullerton? Judith Kaluzny raises some good questions in this letter to the council.

jkcl15047_150Dear City Council Members:

I see you will consider the purchase of 35 taser guns, number 8 on June 16 agenda.

Tasers have been outlawed in several states, including New York, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and in a number of cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia.

The use of tasers can lead to lawsuits for cities.  There have been many lawsuits over mis- or mal- use. Do  we really want to get into this dubious technology?

Judith A. Kaluzny, Mediator and Lawyer
www.judithkaluzny.com

The new ones are even better.
Smile now, cry later

Amnesty International provides a few examples of taser abuse:

  • December 20, 2007, Daytona Beach, FL – Elizabeth Beeland was struck by a Taser after she became loud and unruly at a Best Buy store. Video
  • November 14, 2006, Los Angeles, CA – Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a student at UCLA, neglected to show his student identification card at the library. He was then asked to leave, and when he refused he was struck by a Taser multiple times. Video
  • September 17, 2007, Gainesville, FL – Andrew Meyer persistently questioned Senator John Kerry at a university forum. University of Florida police tried to escort him from the auditorium and later struck him with a Taser for resisting arrest. Video

CITY SIGN CENSORS HIT EUCLID

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For as long as we can remember, community groups have hung banners on the fences at the corner of Euclid and Malvern. So, what’s up with the new “Do Not Post Banners on Fence” sign? Who put it there? And why?

The fence has long been used by youth sports teams, the Muckenthaler, the Farmers’ Market, local churches and cultural groups to publicize community events to passing motorists. Now they are being scolded with the “No Banners” warning.

As the fences are along a flood control channel, we suspected the County put the sign up. But according to a June 9 memo from OC Flood Control Director Nadeem Majaj, the fence is city-owned and the warning sign was installed by city staff.img00468

Why? There is no record of this ever having been before the City Council. Is this a precursor to a banner ban at other similar locations? (Yorba Linda & State College, Gilbert & Malvern, etc.)

The council should order this sign removed. The “Do Not Post Banners on Fence” will continue to taunt motorists with the heavy hand of city government, denying community groups their long-held location for needed free publicity…. Until the council takes it down. 

Judge Jim Gray on Marijuana

Marijuana. Decriminalize, tax and regulate. Makes a lot more sense than ban, spray and incarcerate. Of course, it’s just the dark-skinned ones that we jail mostly. For middle class kids, it’s just “experimentation”!

That was the message of retired Judge Jim Gray at last night’s packed meeting of the Neighbors United for Fullerton at the main library. Gray told the supportive NUFFsters that imprisoning marijuana offenders costs California taxpayers $1 billion yearly and taxing it would add $4 billion to state coffers. That’s a net of $5 billion!

Who are the big winners in the drug war? Prison guards, prison builders, drug lords, dumb politicians and Big Pharma. (Tough to profit from a plant that grows in the wilds!)

Elected officials attending–and positively responding–were Supervisor Chris Norby and Anaheim UHSD Board Member Katherine Smith.

Gray talked about all the costs of the entire drug war, but concentrated on cannabis as the one most likely to see real reform. AB 390 by Assemblyman Tom Amiano (D-San Francisco) would legalize and tax marijuana in California, to take effect only after federal law was changed to respect state autonomy on the issue.

How ’bout it Barack? Would society really have been better off had you been jailed back during your experimental youth?

There are just enough pro-freedom Dems and Reps to form a coaltion. Reefer Madness might soon be replaced by Reefer sanity!

Departing Police Chief Brings Home The Bacon

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Porktacular reading material

Just in time for his retirement, our beloved police chief Pat McKinley brought home a $100,000 federal earmark for his new body armor which he designed in a partnership with seasoned police contractor Safariland, a subsidiary of Europe’s largest military contractor. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez congratulated herself for rooting up the money for the high-priced vests as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act.

What could be wrong with this earmark? It’s nothing but free money for the City of Fullerton – an unconditional gift from the federal government, right?

But the earmark qualifies as official government pork according to government watchdogs.

Citizens Against Government Waste have identified 10,160 projects at a cost of $19.6 billion in the 12 Appropriations Acts for fiscal 2009 that symbolize the most egregious and blatant examples of pork.  All of the items in the Congressional Pig Book Summary meet at least one of these criteria, but most satisfy at least two:

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
  • Not specifically authorized;
  • Not competitively awarded;
  • Not requested by the President;
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
  • Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
  • Serves only a local or special interest.
Officer Rubio shows off his new vest while demonstrating a choke hold for our unsuspecting photographer.
Officer Rubio shows off his new vest while demonstrating a choke hold for our unsuspecting photographer.

There are two sides to every slab of government pork: on one hand, earmarks return a portion of Fullerton citizens’ federal tax dollars back to the city itself. If Fullerton doesn’t grab it’s share of the pie, the money will merely be assigned to some other bloated project in some other needy town far, far away.

On the flip side, earmarks represent the very worst in fiscal responsibility and big government. Appropriations Committee members arbitrarily pick winners and losers by earmarking funds for specific recipients.  Lobbyists and their congressmen bypass authorizing committees directly for pet projects, creating a giant fiscal free-for-all that undermines the Constitution and makes states and localities increasingly beholden to the federal government. Finally, the federal deficit grows unchecked and our taxes increase via the debasement of our currency.

Pork projects have haunted this nation since our early years, but they have always been reviled by fiscally responsible citizens. Thomas Jefferson considered earmarks “a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress & their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money”. If Jefferson knew about the exponential increase in federal earmarks over the last decade, he would likely rise from his grave to scribe a brand new Declaration of Independence.

In the end, the chiefs’ friends at Safariland are $100,000 richer, our police have new vests that cost twice as much as the old, and most importantly, the fruits of our labor have been lost in a sea of unaccountability.

Fast Talking Techno-Pitch Man Tries to Sell Council Sack of Magic Cyber-Beans

Council member Mr. Dick Jones was caught drooling yesterday at the idea of using taxpayer funds to create a massive fiber optic nightmare to compete against local businesses and bring high-speed Internet connections to our supposedly media-starved school children. A presentation was made to the council by smooth-talking Paul Stover of the Technology Working Group to deploy a 37-mile fiber-optic loop buried shallowly underneath major Fullerton traffic arteries. Mr. Jones seized upon the idea of becoming his own telecom corporation, using taxpayer resources to launch Fullerton into the high-risk world of the telecommunications business. Despite his lack of experience in the telecom industry and without surrendering a moment to ponder the idea, Mr. Jones eagerly pronounced “I’m ready to sign up!”

In the corporate world, responsible executives must keep a tight reign on their computer geeks, who are easily coaxed by fast-talking technology salesmen into spending other people’s money to buy themselves fancy new toys. Mr. Jones and the rest of the council should always be wary when IT salesmen throw around meaningless buzzwords like “Futureproof” and “knowledge workers” in an attempt to justify fabulous new financial ventures deep into the territory of private enterprise.

Council member Shawn Nelson got started with some important questions, but the council needs to go much deeper. These are the questions you should be asking TWG and ISMS (the consulting company who conveniently recommended themselves to manage the proposed system). Vague, assumptive or misdirecting answers should not be accepted.

1. Should we make a long-term investment into a rapidly-depreciating commodity? The cost of bandwidth has been falling by orders of magnitude for the last 15 years and is expected to fall even faster as ISPs trip over each other to deliver high-definition video to every home in America over the next few years. Is that the low-margin business that the City of Fullerton should enter? Or perhaps we should position ourselves to benefit from the fruits of this new competitive marketplace by leaving ourselves open to the most efficient solution utilizing commercial economies of scale that a city can never achieve by itself.

2. Do our children really need gigabit Internet connections at school? Some of our teachers seem to be very interested in bringing more bandwidth into our schools to fill our children’s mind with the best videos that the Internet has to offer. For as far back as I can remember, projectors, VHS and DVDs were used by lazy schoolteachers as babysitters in the classroom when they don’t feel like actually teaching. Will Internet video be any different? Why are these teachers so quick to outsource themselves to a video professor?

3. Why does the network have to be physically owned by the city? ISMS disingenuously implies that their giant list of potential uses for this fiber network can only be achieved if Fullerton owns the physical medium. That is completely false – any and all of these technologies could be run over network access provided by the marketplace on an as-needed basis.

4. Will Fullerton really be able to re-sell portions of the network to businesses? Mr. Jones clearly became enamored with the idea, but the TWG spokesman downplayed it and suggested that it was merely a possibility. Almost all businesses have connectivity needs that go beyond the borders of a single city and would be wary in signing up for government-run service in a competitive marketplace.

5. What are the risks of microtrenching the new cable? Microtrenching is a newer cable distribution method which only buries the cable about a foot under the surface of our roads instead of digging large trenches. Are there any long-term reliability studies of this new technique? If we lay 37 miles of cable over the top of our existing utilities, what are the increased costs when we have to do maintenance to our gas lines, sewer lines, water mains and street surfaces?

Mr. Jones may be easily bedazzled by big words, flashing lights and his own jokes, but the rest of the council should be wise enough to ask the right questions before taxpayers are sold on this so-called Fiber Field of Dreams.

SWAT Raid On Fullerton Students and Taxpayers

As the Fullerton Joint Union High School District struggles with drastic budget cuts that threaten to strip public education back to the three R’s, Fullerton SWAT and the Sunny Hills High School administrators decided that their students should spend the day playing “PARAMILITARY POLICE RAID” at the expense of Fullerton taxpayers.

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The Orange County Register reports the students were given a 14 day window in which to expect 3 SWAT trucks and an unknown number of armored pseudo-soldiers to storm the campus in an attempt to replicate the fear and panic of an active shooter situation.Despite the unfortunate news of a real attack in another part of the country, the Fullerton SWAT team was unable to inspire the high school students into true hysteria. The event did give Officer Mike a chance to remind the students of the days’ lesson: if this was a real hostage situation, they should be curled up in the fetal position begging for their lives.

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This unfortunate event came at a time when all school expenses and activities are under strict scrutiny due to $6.9 million in projected budget cutbacks. Somehow this waste-of-a-day just slipped past those watchful eyes at the district and the taxpayers are left pondering which public learning institution will be featured as the next simulated warzone.

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