Millbrae has received some heat for their red-light cameras.

ABC 7 reported that the city had a record-setting June 2015, when it issued more than 1,555 citations for red-light violations. The attention on the issue has since cooled, and the number of citations has dropped.

In June of this year, Millbrae issued 1,087 citations, according to a public records request by Highway Robbery, a website that tracks information about California red-light camera tickets.

There are three cameras in Millbrae — the Southbound Highway 101 off ramp at Millbrae Avenue, Millbrae Avenue at Rollins Road and El Camino Real at Millbrae Avenue. Have you received a ticket? You can review the footage of your violation online.

Traffic fines in San Mateo County are ultimately determined by the Superior Court of California, not the local police departments.

Steven Chang, the court’s finance director, explained that the citation starts with a base fine of $100 and then five penalty fees are applied. On top of that, there are mandatory fees such as the 20 percent state surcharge or court operations fee. The grand total usually comes out to about $490 for the citation. Chang said that while the judge can’t typically lower mandatory fees, they do have some discretion over the base fine and are generally willing to listen and reduce fines for people who go to court and say they can’t afford it.

Here’s how Millbrae compares to other cities in San Mateo County:

Menlo Park:

  • A document from a public records request indicates that 830 red-light violations were available for prosecution. I have put in my own public records request with the Menlo Park Police Department to find out how many citations were actually issued.
  • The minimum fine is $380 for running a red light.
  • Three cameras were initially installed in 2008 because of an increase in accidents caused by drivers running red lights resulting in major injuries and fatalities, said Deborah Calvillo of the Menlo Park Police Department. Another was added in 2016. Calvillo said the Police Department is currently evaluating how effective the camera has been in preventing those accidents.
  • The cameras are located at Bayfront Expressway at Willow Road, El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue, and El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue.
  • It costs the city about $26,000 a month to operate the red-light cameras. In October, they extended their contract for the cameras for another six months, but the council asked for a report on the effectiveness of red-light cameras. The plan is to discuss this at their Dec. 4 meeting.

San Mateo:

  • A document from a public records request indicates that in June of this year, 1,259 red-light violations were available for prosecution.
  • San Mateo has three cameras. They are located at the intersections of Hillsdale Boulevard and Saratoga Diver, Hillsdale Boulevard and Norfolk Street, and 4th Avenue and Humbolt Street.
  • We’ve put in a call to the San Mateo Police Department to see how much it costs to maintain the cameras and to ask how many citations were actually issued. We will let you know when we hear back.

Redwood City:

  • The city discontinued using red-light cameras in 2013 due to the high price tag.
  • Sgt. Stephen Fine with the Redwood Police Department said cameras aren’t always a reliable way to record people because sometimes the photo of the person driving taken by the camera doesn’t match the DMV photo of the registered car owner. The police can’t make anyone tell them who the person in the photo is.
  • They now have officers stationed in areas that they’ve received a lot of complaints about speeding or have high accident rates such as downtown or Farm Hill Road.


  • In Sacramento, state Sen. Jerry Hill is trying to lower the fine for tickets issued to people who don’t come to a complete stop when turning right on a red light. He tried to pass this in 2016, 2017 and introduced it again this year.
  • If passed, the bill would lower the base amount of the fine to $35.

To give you a better idea of where the $60 funding for this story went, our team spent four hours reporting this story. Here are three questions we are now left with:

  1. How do red-light cameras affect the number of serious accidents?
  2. Do red-light cameras cause more rear-end traffic accidents?
  3. Why is there no uniform fine structure in California for traffic citations?

This answer was produced by Pactio and journalist Ashlyn Rollins. Now, it’s time for you to ask your question.

Incubated at Stanford University, Pactio reinvents the way local journalism is created by bringing together readers and journalists to discover and fund the stories they need and want to know about their community.