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 V.16 No.17 | April 26 - May 2, 2007 

Council Watch

Not Quite There Yet

The Council discussed two bills that would reduce both fines and late fees for red-light cameras.
The Council discussed two bills that would reduce both fines and late fees for red-light cameras.

At the April 16 meeting, councilors debated various issues but postponed votes. Two land use appeals opposed the Development Review Board's (DRB) approval of a subdivision plat near the Embudito trailhead. The DRB ruling allows construction on individual lots to exceed the sector plan's requirements regarding density and slope as long as averages for the entire area meet guidelines. Councilors will hear the appeals in May.

The tribulations of the El Vado Motel continue with appeals by property owner Richard Gonzales to remove the building's landmark designation and start demolition. A district court recently ruled that the Landmarks and Urban Conservation Committee (LUCC) had failed to do a required study before recommending landmark status for the motel. The Council remanded the matter to the LUCC.

Councilor Don Harris said his proposed task force to study governance of neighborhood and property owners associations didn't need legislation to get started. Harris previously named Jim Strozier of Consensus Planning as task force chair. Strozier often appears before the Council to represent development interests. Harris said he thought Strozier was a good choice because of his experience but that some people considered him too adversarial to neighborhood associations protesting proposed development. The new chair is Scott Varner of the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico. [See "Mr. Harris' Neighborhoods," Jan. 11-17, 2007]

Send your comments about the City Council to laura@alibi.com.

Note: A recent Council Watch inadvertently capitalized EDo "Development." Area developer Rob Dickson objected to the second big D. Dickson said, "The phrase, 'EDo Development,' in my view, implies large corporate interests telling everyone what to do. There is nothing of that kind here."

Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Do the Crime, Pay (Almost) on Time

Council President Debbie O'Malley sponsored a bill reducing late penalties added to red-light camera fines. Currently the fine doubles if not paid within 20 days of the bill being mailed from the program's Arizona contractor. O'Malley's bill limits the additional late fee to $50. O'Malley said many elderly people don't understand in time that they are in default.
Councilor Craig Loy said he would support reducing the late fee if the bill allowed unpaid penalties to increase after each 30 days in default. Councilor Martin Heinrich questioned the 20-day window, saying his own mail delivery had "high amounts of variability." Councilor Brad Winter worked out a compromise to stretch the window to 35 days. O'Malley asked for a deferral. The current red-light camera bill allows any police officer to seize a vehicle for unpaid fines. Conceivably, Grandma and Grandpa could run a light heading for the Sunport, then return home from vacation and have their car impounded. The original bill badly needed some provision to notify people immediately that they broke the law.
Do the Crime, Pay a (Smaller) Fine

Councilor Ken Sanchez sponsored a bill that waives the fine for a first red-light camera violation, decreases second violation fines from $250 to $69 and lowers subsequent fines from $500 to $150. The bill also waives first-time fines for speeding violations caught on camera and reduces subsequent fines by 35 to 40 percent. Sanchez said the reduced fines matched those levied by arresting officers for comparable offenses. Sanchez said he supports the cameras but called the current scale of fines "a backdoor tax." He deferred the bill.
Heinrich and Councilor Isaac Benton opposed waivers of initial fines, but Benton said fines shouldn't exceed those for an officer stop. Loy said officers also ran up overtime when they had to appear in court. O'Malley said, "We're not giving people the same due process." Professional driver Victor Alvarez said people just got mad "because they broke the law and got caught." Mark Beasley said his son had gotten a red-light camera ticket and left for Iraq the next day. They only found out about the fine in time because Beasley opened his son's mail. Winter said a recent Town Hall meeting showed public concern about due process and excess city profits. He hoped "the administration would get us the [revenue] numbers so we can make some intelligent decisions." Equalizing fines and due process with those resulting from officer stops would definitely reduce objections to the cameras. I don't really like their Big Brother creepiness. But compared to the grotesque invasions of privacy cooked up by the Bushies and marketing researchers, Albuquerque's cameras look trivial. And at least they reduce accidents.
Wanna Flap Your Trap, Better Take a Nap

Harris, who previously introduced a bill to move public comment to the end of each Council meeting, substituted a revision limiting public comment sessions to one hour each month before the start of a committee meeting.
Speakers would be limited to remarks about city government-related topics during the general comment session. Without Council discussion, Harris explained the fairly substantial changes in the bill and deferred it until May 7. Recusing myself for conflict of interest! Years as a captive audience for repetitive, irrelevant rants biases one more toward limiting abuses of the public comment system than toward protecting people's rights to endlessly spout off.
 
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