On Sunday we visited the Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park. An easy 25 minute drive and worth the trip. It wasn’t until we got back that I realized I had opted to drive to drink beer on the same day thousands marched for action on global warming in New York and other cities. Does it help that I had filled my car with three other people? I didn’t think so. Sorry! Oh. I should also point out that I drank only 6 0z. of beer, as I was the designated driver.
The tasting room offered flights of five 6 ounce beers for $10 and for that you get to keep the glass. They served four beers on tap and had a fridge full of bottles that they’d open to add to your flight upon request. I enjoyed everything I tried (I had a sip of two others), even the offerings that veered off the beaten bath. I visited on a Sunday so they were holding their Beer with a Shmear. Buy a flight and get a bagel, cream cheese and/or crackers, cheese and olives. Nice spread!
The free tour was terrific. Shane hosted and was a delight. Very fun and lively give and take. I missed the intro but based on his references to “my recipes” I got the sense he was the brew master. If he isn’t, he could be. Remember to bring a glass from the tasting room and he may offer you free beer during the tour. Highly recommended.
In other news, yesterday I attended a public hearing before the traffic safety committee of the Albany Common Council to learn about red light cameras. Legislation has been drafted, but it has not yet been presented to the Common Council for a vote. Here is the bill in the form provided at the meeting: 45.92.14
Michael Cox, the deputy chief of police, started things off. He gave a good presentation the punchline of which is he’s in favor of them. The second speaker drafted the proposed legislation. The third speaker was from AAA. He shared a ton of stats which he characterized as supporting red light cameras. The “preponderance of the evidence” supported them, was his exact phrase.
Members of the public safety committee were then given the chance to ask questions. I got the sense that most were in favor with one notable exception. Judd Krasher hates them. His objections centered around 6th Amendment concerns (specifically the right to to be confronted with the witnesses against an accused in a criminal proceeding). Thing is, the proposed legislation as currently drafted, Ordinance Number 45.92.14, imposes a penalty of $50 (aside: parking tickets are $42 with the service fees–$50 is a bargain for endangering the lives of your neighbors). No summons to appear. Just a ticket, like a parking ticket. In fact, the Parking Violations Bureau would be in charge. To quote:
An imposition of liability under this section shall not be deemed a conviction of an operator and shall not be made a part of the operating record of the person upon whom such liability is imposed nor shall it be used for insurance purposes in the provision of motor vehicle insurance coverage.
All of that suggests to me that the 6th Amendment protections should not apply as there is no criminal proceeding.
Judd was also concerned that the collection of $50 for running a red light is a regressive tax. I don’t see it. Regressive taxes are a problem when imposed on things people need (say food), but in this instance the “taxpayer” can opt out. Don’t run red lights and you won’t be taxed.
Roughly 25 members of the public were there and about half took the opportunity to speak. About eight were against and four for. Of the eight against, four were from out of town, so local feedback given at the meeting was about even.
The against camp frequently asserted privacy concerns. Fair to be concerned, but the current state of constitutional law doesn’t provide much cover. Rights to privacy in public are severely limited and do not generally extend to things that are in plain view. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe officers can look into cars (through the window) without a warrant. This proposed legislation requires the demonstration program to ensure, to the extent practicable, that photographs produced will not include images that identify the driver, the passengers or the contents of the vehicle. This safeguard should look pretty good in comparison to the current practice of collection of images and data from stationary police cameras and cameras mounted to police cars. Point is, we are already being watched so I am not concerned about more cameras designed to improve safety on our streets.
The against camp also suggested the data doesn’t support the assertion that red light cameras make roads safer. Principal concern is that rear ending accidents go up as people begin to stop for red lights. Easy solution–stop exceeding the speed limit, tailgating and assuming the car in front of you will run the light. It will still happen, but it isn’t right to blame the camera. The person behind is always at fault in a rear end collision. End of story.
They were also concerned about giving money to a private contractor who would be retained to install, maintain and operate the cameras. In round numbers, it sounds like the contractors get around 40% of the revenues generated. Still yields millions of dollars each year to each municipality that has installed them. Nothing to sneeze at. And if you are against public private partnerships, you’ve really missed the boat. Private contractors have been providing services to municipalities for as long as municipalities have been around. Maybe the objectors were public employees and fear more outsourcing? They did cite corruption experienced in other municipalities. Surely a risk here, but if we tossed out every service tainted by malfeasance we may be without services altogether.
Another oft cited concern was that red light camera programs are intended only to generate revenue. Fine with me. Albany needs cash. The AAA rep stressed the importance of earmarking money raised by the red-light cameras to fund further advances in traffic safety, including engineering improvements and education. Sign me up.
This marked the first time I’ve attended a public meeting. I may be hooked. I expected boring but got impassioned speeches, some accusations and heated defenses. I wasn’t bored for a minute of the two hours. If you haven’t tried it, do. I think there is another public meeting on this issue on October 8. Check here. If the safety committee (say…isn’t this a code for something other than safety?) approves the legislation it will be presented to the full council for a vote. Stay tuned!