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Wednesday, Jun 04 2014 09:58 PM

Council approves red-light cameras, talks water

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    A red light camera at the intersection of Bernard and Oswell street in a January 2014 photo.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The city's red-light camera program is a deterrent to dangerous drivers and should continue, the Bakersfield City Council decided with a 6-1 vote Wednesday.

The council approved with no discussion a two-year extension to its contract with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems to continue operating red-light cameras at 12 intersections in Bakersfield.

Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote.

Bakersfield earns an average of $78,684 net revenue per year from the red-light program as of April 30 -- but it spent $55,211 of that to have a sworn Bakersfield Police Department officer review each incident.

Collision reports through Sept. 30 show accidents declining in almost all cases. In 11 of 16 instances surveyed, accidents fell from double to single digits.

More deadly primary accidents, defined as "right-of-way violations such as broadsides and head-ons," declined on yearly averages ranging from 47 percent to 73 percent, depending on the intersection.

Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell said he had thought Johnson might pull the item off the council's consent calendar of items passed in one motion -- but Johnson didn't.

"I think sometimes you have to trust what staff is telling you in terms of what information we have available and how it's working," Maxwell said. "I look forward to it coming back again and I'll certainly be talking to Councilmember Johnson about why he didn't ask for discussion on it."

In a series of text messages after the meeting, Johnson said he is "growing increasingly skeptical of the success of the program" and has "many unanswered questions that need to be addressed by staff."

In other business, the council heard budget proposals from the parks, community development and water resources departments -- two of which involved water, a precious commodity during a statewide drought emergency.

Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover said her department's proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget of almost $19.3 million is a nearly 7 percent increase over last year's $18.1 million budget.

"What made expenses go up?" asked Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson.

"We're asking for $500,000 for water and then there are other factors," Hoover said, explaining the parks department pays for its own water. "Whether it's (California Water Service Co.) or the city's department, we still have to pay that."

At its May 21 meeting, the council had wondered how the city is doing on water during its third dry year.

In a presentation, Water Resources Director Jason Meadors explained that the city is at a Stage 2 condition, and having seen groundwater levels fall to average depths of 247 feet will be lowering pumps in nine wells.

At a Stage 2 drought condition the city can request customers to limit their water use -- but mandatory conservation is not yet required.

That would come during a Stage 3 condition.

"The city has included in our water bills since March instructions to customers to voluntarily reduce their consumption by 20 percent," Meadors said, noting the city will also participate in a Water Purveyor Conservation Day July 12.

"We are monitoring the water situation daily. If next year is a dry year, the city may have to implement a drought ordinance to mandate conservation measures."

The city has instituted water conservation measures of its own including washing city cars less, installing water-saving sprinklers at 18 city parks, and educating school children in saving water.

During the Water Conservation Day event, Meadors explained, the city will promote rebate programs on high-efficiency appliances and so-called "smart" or low-use irrigation devices.

"While we're doing a lot of good stuff now ... it just feels like we're a little slow to the game," Johnson said, suggesting the city consider expanding its tertiary water usage.

"Level 2 is all the spray parks are going to be working and Level 3 is none of them are going to be working," Maxwell said, suggesting cutting hours at spray parks this year instead and asking the city attorney to draft a resolution urging wise water usage.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan asked city staff to evaluate spray parks.

"I'm not in favor in any way of decreasing the hours," Sullivan said. "I would like to have a recommendation if staff feels that is necessary ... ."

In other business, the council began -- but did not finish City Manager Alan Tandy's annual performance evaluation.

"I think the job of the city manager is a very demanding and complex job and the majority of the council felt we did not have enough time to discuss the direction of the city and the city manager's performance," Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera afterward, explaining why the item was continued.

Mayor Harvey Hall was absent, having suffered a broken hip in a fall outside City Hall South on May 29. He was discharged Wednesday from Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

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