Lights! Camera! Action!
Timeworn as that phase is, it may come to mind the next time you get that sucking feeling when the red-light camera’s white flash zaps you and you realize an envelope will soon follow from American Traffic Solutions in Arizona, with a bill for $158.
So what do you do? Ignore, pay, or fight?
Because red-light cameras are currently in play, they’ll be the focus of this month’s grab bag. And we’ll also throw in a few goodies you might not know about -- a new restaurant and bar coming to MOCA Plaza, and a Hispanic Heritage Month event there -- and close with a driving meditation.
Chief Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman is now considering whether to keep or scrap the red-light cameras, weighing a 110-page closing argument from the City of Aventura, which wants to keep the cameras, against a 120-page closing argument from plaintiffs who say they are unconstitutional on the grounds that they unlawfully place police powers in the hands of a private company.
The City of North Miami voted 4-to-1 on June 23 to scrap the red-light cameras, saying they’d become an out-of-control money machine.
So far, the plaintiffs are ahead. Broward and Palm Beach counties have pretty much suspended red-light tickets, as judges conclude they are unconstitutional as they stand. Leifman’s decision, which will be consequential, will likely go to circuit court and the Third District Court of Appeal.
The Florida Supreme Court, which sent it back earlier this year, probably won’t take it up again unless two appeals courts conflict in their rulings. The state attorney general is getting involved, too.
So with all this swirling about, what should you do when the envelope comes -- even if it’s from the City of North Miami, where the 21 red-light cameras are now on death watch, set to expire September 30?
We asked Ted Hollander, managing partner of The Ticket Clinic, with 23 offices around the state. He is also a lead plaintiff’s lawyer in the statewide fight to abolish the cameras on the grounds they unlawfully assign police powers to private companies.
“When you get the envelope from Arizona, do not disregard it,” he advises. “Pay the $158, or take it to court. I recommend going to court and am hoping we will prevail. I think you have a good shot going to court.”
Earlier this year, two traffic judges in Broward tossed 24,000 red-light traffic tickets, ruling that the program violated Florida law. As pro-plaintiff decisions mount, cities around Broward and Palm Beach counties have suspended red-light camera enforcement.
The $64K question: Will these programs be scrapped, or simply refined so that police, rather than Arizona companies, review the videos?
Pushback continues, too. In May the Village of Pinecrest installed red-light cameras at four intersections along U.S. 1. And the City of Aventura is going strong with the program, but it is also safe to say that the triffid-like spread of red-light cameras has slowed for now.
The pro-red-light argument, of course, is that the cameras curb bad driving and save lives. And, truth to tell, after a couple of tickets, I am now more likely to slow down when the light turns yellow. The Florida Department of Transportation is also an effective -- if unwitting -- the contributor to traffic safety with knuckleheaded rush-hour lane closures, helping to ensure sludge-like traffic flow up and down the Biscayne Corridor.
So we asked Ted Hollander another question. Cities like North Miami have days set aside to hear red-light camera claims. If you appear and plead no contest, the fine goes up to $203. If you are deemed liable, $223. So do you go to the city hearing or go to the court?
“The statute requires that every city with cameras has a city process,” he says. “We refuse to go to these for a number of reasons. The hearing officers are not independent judges, but people paid by the city to which you pay the tickets. The city collecting the money is also paying the person who decides. That’s not going to give the driver the benefit of the doubt. You can also get hit with an additional surcharge of up to $250. In court, the rules of evidence are there to protect the driver. At least, you get a neutral judge or magistrate.”
If you’re curious, Google red-light cameras in Miami-Dade, and you can see where they are. Proceed with caution.
Before we return our eyes to the road, here are two pieces of cool news you might not know yet:
• MOCA Plaza is about to get a dandy restaurant: Café Crème. It’s at the old Starbucks site at 750 NE 125th St., now occupied by Gustavo Olivieri Antiques. The principals are chef Claude Postel and Cory Finot, partners in the Buena Vista Deli at 4590 NE 2nd Ave., famed for its pastries and chocolates. (Postel founded the equally acclaimed Buena Vista Bistro two doors from the deli.)
Plans include indoor and outdoor seating for 200, a full-service restaurant, liquor bar, and a bakery and chocolate shop. It received $250,000 in CRA money on July 14 and plans to open in time for Art Basel. This is a big step for the MOCA plaza and downtown development.
• Look alive for the Latin Fiesta on September 19 in MOCA Plaza, with music, Latin food, and lots of fun, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 to October 15). Councilwoman Carol Keys reminds us that this is a big deal. More than 2000 showed up last year, and it was pouring rain.
“Hispanics” -- a very broad brush for folks who speak Spanish -- are the fastest-growing group in North Miami, where Haitians remain in the strong plurality.
Returning to the road, let’s conclude with calming thoughts on traffic. Google “mindful driving,” and find Wildmind Buddhist Meditation’s “10 tips for mindful driving.”
My favorite: When you get into the car, before doing anything, take three deep breaths, really letting go at the last breath. Do the same before leaving the car.
The funniest: As drivers pass you, wish them well. (Okay.) When cars cut you off, repeat: “May you be well. May you be happy.” (Oh, come on.)
Just last night on I-95, a tan Honda SUV swerved half a car length in front while I was going 60 just before the 135th Street exit. Once I dodged and hit the brakes, the adrenaline subsided, and it was time to mindfully contemplate murder before spying this rear windshield sticker: “Real men love Jesus.”