Councilors to move on red-light cameras, drone ordinance


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A long-discussed ordinance that would repeal an automatic traffic-enforcement law in place, as well as ban the use of drones and automatic license-plate recognition systems, will finally see a conclusive ending.

The Iowa City City Council will give a second vote to repeal a February 2012 ordinance that in recent months has sparked community support and scorn after receiving the initial go-ahead.

Today’s vote is the final consideration of the repeal.

By collecting more than 4,000 signatures on a petition, the opposition group StopBigBrother.org, in cooperation with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, sparked a new debate on the issue of automated traffic-enforcement technology.

“It would be a victory for us, definitely … Our preferred option would be to see our initiative on the ballot and see the people of Iowa City have their say on this,” group cofounder Aleksey Gurtovoy said. “It’s a lost battle for them. They know if it goes on the ballot, it’s going to pass. Then it would be an ordinance that we voted on, and two years down the road, it would be a much more questionable political move if they decide to scrap it."

In a May 10 interview with the DI, City Clerk Marian Karr said she had found many of the collected signatures — a required 2,500 to force city action— to be invalid.

During the first consideration of the ordinance on June 5, city councilors unanimously approved the measure before city staff requested expedited action on the item’s second consideration.

Calling the decision to accept the petition a “simple one,” City Councilor Connie Champion said she believes tonight’s decision will be unanimous. If the petition is not accepted, however, the item will be put up to a citywide vote.

She said even if the state decides next week to approve the use of traffic cameras, no action locally would result for the next two years if today’s ordinance passes.

“… The idea was that instead of putting [the petition’s proposal] to a [citywide] vote, which is expensive, because [the ordinance up for repeal] won’t be doing anything for two years, we’ll just accept the petition as it is,” she said. “And then the future council, after two years, can decide what to do with red-light cameras.”

The delay comes as cities across the state wait on the state Transportation Department’s stance on the use of automatic traffic enforcement.

While the proposed ordinance bans drones in Iowa City, it will only affect municipal authorities, Champion said, adding that the city has no authority over state and federal agencies.

Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said Iowa City police do not currently employ automated traffic-enforcement systems, license-plate-recognition systems, or unmanned aircraft, and the proposed ordinance would have no effect on their operations.Angie Platt, a UI junior in the College of Nursing, said that an ordinance banning traffic cameras would not affect her personally because she does not drive in Iowa City, but she voiced concern over the issue.

“It kind of feels like, not an invasion of privacy but sort of unnecessary,” she said.

But UI senior Cody Hodson said that although he doesn’t consider drone technology trustworthy, he said traffic cameras can yield safety improvements. 

“As far as drones go, I don’t like that idea, because I don’t trust that they will always be used for monitoring traffic …” he said. “But as far as traffic cameras go, I don’t really care that much. If they make intersections safer, then it’s a good thing.”

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