Long Beach is one of six cities that would be able to use automated cameras to catch speeding drivers, under a state bill supported by Mayor Rex Richardson.

If the bill passes, the cities would be allowed to create pilot programs to install speed cameras in school zones and areas with a history of serious crashes or speeding problems.

A limited number of cameras would be allowed based on city population—the other cities in the bill are Glendale, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco city and county—and the legislation includes provisions intended to address concerns with equity and privacy, such as a ban on using facial recognition.

But those measures haven’t persuaded the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups, which argue that communities can increase safety without expanding surveillance, and that the programs are more expensive for cities than making changes to road design to slow drivers down.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman, the bill’s main author, has sponsored similar legislation several times, only to see it killed.

Friedman—who represents a Los Angeles County district that includes part of Glendale—said she’s been hearing from a broad swath of constituents that they see people driving faster and less safely, and cities outside California that use speed cameras have seen “a very dramatic decrease” in serious and fatal crashes. (Current state law doesn’t allow speed cameras.)

Friedman noted the tickets from speed cameras would be connected to the vehicle (cameras would photograph the rear license plate) rather than the driver, and cars would have to go at least 11 miles over the posted speed limit to trigger the cameras. Fines would start at $50 for going up to 15 mph over the limit and would increase for greater speeds.

“The goal is simply to slow down the speeds so we save lives, and everything in the bill is designed around that,” she said.

Cities that create speed camera programs would have to undertake public education campaigns; only warnings would be issued for the first two months of operation; and signs would be posted alerting people to the cameras. Rather than trying to punish drivers, Friedman said, “it’s very intentionally designed to change driver behavior.”

Groups including the ACLU of Southern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which advocates for digital privacy rights, are opposing the bill, which they worry would harm communities that are already subject to more policing and have seen their roads and other infrastructure neglected.

The bill includes a provision that data collected through the speed camera program would not be shared with other agencies or sold by third-party vendors, but ACLU of Southern California Senior Staff Attorney Mohammad Tajsar said it’s hard to “put the genie back in the bottle” once data is collected.

He pointed to a 2020 incident in which Long Beach and Pasadena were found to have shared data from automated license plate readers with federal immigration enforcement authorities, despite pledges from both cities’ leaders that they would not cooperate in civil immigration enforcement. (Both cities at the time attributed the data sharing to mistakes.)

Tajsar and EFF Senior Legislative Activist Hayley Tsukayama agreed that reducing crashes and making city streets safer is a worthwhile goal, but there are other ways to do it that don’t sacrifice privacy or risk punishing already disadvantaged communities.

Cities could instead implement more traffic-calming measures, such as reducing lanes or putting in traffic circles, to get drivers to slow down, Tsukayama said, adding, “if the goal is better road safety, I think surveillance is not necessarily a fix for that.”

Richardson said he supports the bill in part because it focuses on school zones, and he noted that 45 people in Long Beach died last year in crashes.

“At the end of the day, the goal is safety, and we want to prioritize safety of our youth,” he said.

If the bill passes and the city creates a speed camera program, he said, there will be several more steps along the way to get community input and draft rules that are equitable and protect residents’ privacy.

The bill requires participating cities to create a policy for the cameras that would safeguard civil liberties and clearly outline the purpose and costs of the program.

Richardson said the city would use traffic data to design any camera program, and officials will continue to invest in safety measures such as better street lighting and more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

“We’re not looking at this one tool as sort of a one-stop solution,” he said.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled today in the Assembly appropriations committee.