A letter to Bellingham City Council

A letter to Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike and Bellingham City Councilmembers Jack Weiss, Gene Knutson, Barry Buchanan, Stan Snapp, Terry Bornemann, Michael Lilliquist, and Seth Fleetwood

Let the people in Bellingham decide on for-profit camera surveillance (red-light cameras and speed cameras)

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Johnny Weaver and his tireless team of activists at Young Americans for Liberty at Whatcom Community College, the Bellingham Mayor and City Council’s effort to sneak through their multi-million-dollar, for-profit camera surveillance scheme without public input and scrutiny was thwarted.  We’re all looking forward to traveling up to Bellingham on Monday for your 7:00 pm hearing to testify and put an even greater spotlight on this huge taxation through citation scam.

Bellingham’s Mayor and City Council have been wined and dined for a year by Arizona’s red-light camera company while they’ve pushed their for-profit cameras surveillance scheme.  They’ve promised the city millions of dollars in free money.  But what do the citizens think?  Bellingham citizens’ opinion wasn’t given a single thought until Young Americans for Liberty lit the fuse of citizen rebellion.

As for Monday’s hearing, it’s important to recognize that the standard obstructionist policy by legislative bodies is to spend the first few hours of the ‘public hearing’ listening to bureaucrats and politicians and red-light camera salesmen drone on and on, leaving little to no time for regular citizens to testify.  This sends a clear message that the peoples’ testimony is not a priority.  Such delay tactics leave a paltry 3 minutes each, sometimes less, for regular folks to express their opinion on the issue.  So city officials spent a year listening to for-profit camera surveillance hucksters but only a couple of minutes from the citizens who’ll have to live under this Big Brother taxation-by-citation regime.

What happened in Mukilteo this year is instructive:  for all of 2009 and the first half of 2010, Arizona’s red-light camera company schmoozed it up with Mukilteo’s Mayor and City Council, culminating in a lightning fast vote in mid-May with little or no public input or notice.  But on May 24th, we filed a citizen initiative — Mukilteo Initiative No. 2 — which:

  1. Reversed the city council’s controversial decision to impose red-light cameras and speed cameras;
  2. Required a two-thirds vote of the council and a simple majority vote of the people if they ever tried again; and
  3. Removed the profit motive on for-profit camera surveillance by setting fines at the amount originally intended by state law (the price of a parking ticket $20).

The citizens’ response to our initiative was overwhelming.  15% of voters were needed — astonishingly, nearly half of all active registered voters enthusiastically signed initiative petitions.  We had 6 months — the avalanche of support we received got it done in just 31 days.  We had extraordinary citizen support but also broad, enthusiastic newspaper editorial support for our efforts (Mukilteo Beacon, Everett Herald, Seattle Times).  With not a penny raised or spent, our initiative campaign was the most extraordinary ‘lightning in a bottle’ effort we’ve ever seen.  When the first batch of signatures were submitted, Mukilteo’s Mayor and City Council ‘did a 180’ and reversed their position on the cameras.  Nonetheless, the for-profit, out-of-state corporation ATS refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.  They sued the City Council, the County, and the citizens, frantically trying to block the voters from voting on the initiative.  Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes dismissed their lawsuit.  Unable to take the hint, out-of-state ATS dragged the City Council, the County, and the citizens before the State Supreme Court, desperate to prevent voters from voting.  The Supreme Court refused.  This November, despite the anti-First Amendment efforts of Arizona’s red-light camera company ATS, Mukilteo’s voters will be the first in Washington state to decide whether they want these obnoxious cameras or not.

Arizona’s red-light camera company ATS is a sleazy, for-profit, out-of-state corporation that preys on cities desperate for free money.  As Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), a former law enforcement officer, says in this 20-minute KING 5 expose“Cameras are the crack cocaine for cities, once they get hooked, they can’t get off them”. Amazingly, we also learn from KING 5’s investigative report that accidents went up after the cameras were installed.  And disturbingly, over 10% of Lynnwood’s general fund now comes from red-light cameras and speed cameras.  They earned $2 million in 2009 — but as of June, 2010, they were already at $2 million.  This taxation-by-citation scam is a monstrously profitable cash cow for cities.  Citizens hate the cameras, but ATS makes it their top priority to give the illusion of public support.

But it’s just that:  an illusion.  The reality is that local citizens are seething with anger over this stealth manipulation — the camera surveillance company’s anti-voting strategy, used in Mukilteo and cities throughout the nation (http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/32/3209.asp), provides an appalling admission that they know the public opposes their for-profit taxation-by-citation agenda.

Our message to Bellingham’s Mayor and City Council is very simple:  let the voters in Bellingham decide on for-profit camera surveillance (red-light cameras and speed cameras).  Put this issue on the ballot and find out if you have the consent of the governed.  Obviously ATS and Bellingham’s politicians and bureaucrats want the cameras because you’ll be receiving millions of dollars in windfall profits every year from them, but what about the people who’ll have to live under this Big Brother regime — what do the citizens think?  Let them decide.

And before you sign a contract and get into bed with such as sleazy company as Arizona’s ATS, check out the November results in Mukilteo — our voters aren’t much different than yours.

We look forward to Monday’s meeting where we can put an even brighter spotlight on this huge taxation-by-citation scam.

Email addresses of the City Council and the Mayor:




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