Email Address
Site Index

If you haven't already done so, please read the Main Page of San Jose  Documents, at San Jose Documents.

City of San Jose Documents, Set # 4

Media Inattention to the NASCOP Program - or Cheerleading for It

This Dec. 1997 article in Metro compares San Jose traffic court to Alice in Wonderland.  While the article was written at a time when the San Jose NASCOP program had just begun, the article does not mention the program at all.

A major part of the reason why the City was able to get away with running an illegal program for so long was because the Mercury News supported the NASCOP program and thus downplayed the question of its legality.  The Feb. 26, 2007 article below was ex post facto - the City had already decided to discontinue the program - but Mr. Roadshow (Richards) still appears to be attempting to drum up support.

Future of popular S.J. anti-speeding program in doubt


By Gary Richards

Mercury News

Feb. 26, 2007

* Catching speeders with radar

A city program that uses hidden cameras to snare speeders has dramatically slowed traffic on San Jose streets, but it's facing a serious roadblock:

It may be illegal.

Though neighbors and city council members praise the program, its likely demise will be welcome news to motorists like Roger Luebkeman. Three years ago, he was headed down Booksin Avenue going 35 mph in a 25 zone. Weeks later, he got a speeding ticket in the mail.

Luebkeman hadn't noticed a white minivan sitting unobtrusively on the side of the road. Inside sat a traffic technician, and two radar cameras snapped photos of Luebkeman's car.

But Luebkeman isn't an ordinary motorist. He had been a traffic lieutenant in the Santa Clara Police Department, and he knew that only cops can issue speeding tickets.

So he asked a court to rule the photos were inadmissible because the worker was not a policeman and he never got a chance to sign the photo citation. The court agreed.

Last fall, with similar complaints piling up, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office began questioning the system, prompting San Jose officials to reconsider.

Now the city council is set to vote next month on whether to stop using the cameras to ticket drivers. Instead, San Jose likely will just send out warnings, trying both to comply with the state vehicle code -- which permits cameras only to catch red-light runners at intersections and says cops alone can issue speeding tickets -- and to placate residents who want to keep the cameras in place.

``I'm really chagrined about this,'' Councilman Sam Liccardo said at a hearing last week. ``This is a great program, and I want to see it extended.''

Without the punch of a hefty fine, city officials worry drivers will return to their lead-footed ways. But they say the warnings are a better approach than simply abandoning the program, which is perhaps the most effective traffic-calming measure the city employs against speeders.

7,000 tickets last year

San Jose has used the Neighborhood Automated Speed Compliance Program, or NASCOP, since 1996. It is the only city in California now using cameras to slow drivers. The city last year sent out 7,000 violation notices generated by the camera program.

Since the program's introduction, city traffic studies have credited it with a 62 percent reduction in motorists going 10 mph or faster than the speed limit. Overall speeds have fallen 8 percent. And early studies showed a 44 percent decline in crashes.

City officials turned to the program after a series of neighborhood meetings in the early 1990s. At each session, residents complained about drivers going way too fast as kids played outside, pedestrians strolled through neighborhoods and residents tried to back out of driveways.

The city lacked enough traffic cops to make much of a difference. So the idea of camera-toting vans was hatched.

When Liccardo ran for city council last fall and knocked on doors of voters, the message echoed those of more than a decade ago.

``Speeding,'' he said. ``It's the No. 1 concern expressed by residents downtown.''

White vans

The city only sends the vans out to neighborhoods where a majority of residents want cameras and where police agree speeding is a problem.

Resident Todd Wester often sees one of the white vans parked on what he calls the ``Los Pinos speedway drive'' in his Santa Teresa neighborhood.

``One day I sat there during the time Bertha Taylor Elementary School was to be let out, and the flash on that van lit up so much I thought it was a strobe light,'' said Wester, 42. ``I love photo radar. I would love to have 50 motorcycle cops parked there instead; however, I know that's not an option.''

He's right.

Lack of resources

San Jose has 36 motorcycle officers in its traffic enforcement unit -- a half dozen fewer than three years ago and the same number it had in 1986, when the city population was 733,000. There are nearly 1 million residents now.

Yet police oppose the use of photo radar, from the California Highway Patrol down to city cops.

``We don't have the resources to do the enforcement,'' said San Jose Assistant Police Chief Tuck Younis. ``But we feel the most important deterrent is a patrol car with a uniformed police officer.''

Countered Jim Helmer, head of the city's Department of Transportation: ``We really cannot address the speeding problem through the police department or traffic control measures.''

Dropped by Campbell

Campbell was the first city in Northern California to use photo radar. It dropped the program in 1998 after eight years, saying the state Legislature had not given permission to penalize drivers who ignored the by-mail speeding tickets -- as one of every three drivers did.

The cameras also have been challenged in Southern California, where in 2000 a court dismissed a speeding ticket issued to a driver who complained the state vehicle code only allows cameras for red-light violations. The speeding program there was subsequently dropped.

But San Jose officials thought they were safe because their program was based on the penal code instead of the vehicle code. For the next six years, the program expanded from an original 20 residential streets to today's 177.

Then came legal challenges like Luebkeman's.

Bills have been proposed twice in the Legislature to allow cameras to catch speeders, but both have failed to get out of committee.

``If we expect citizens to follow the law, we must expect the city to follow the law,'' Luebkeman said. ``All the citations issued should be recalled and the driving records cleaned. All those people that got citations and paid hundreds of dollars should get refunds.''

San Jose officials say they have no plans to do that.

Switching to a warning-only system will mean a slight hit to the city budget; it takes $340,000 a year to run the program, and without any ticket revenue, that cost will climb about $80,000 annually.

But Helmer, the city traffic chief, said the program's still worth keeping.

``It's been a creative, innovative program,'' he said.

The following article reveals that even after the Mercury News knew that the program's legality was questionable, they continued to push the idea.


Mercury News

March 6, 2007

Q:  Let's get real about the problems at the Alma Avenue on-ramp to northbound Highway 87.  Driving 75 mph in a 55 mph construction zone is not the solution.

A:  And what might be the solution?  Photo radar.  Post signs for two weeks and turn on the radar...