RIVERBANK — Roll through a stop sign here, and a deputy could issue you a $100 ticket. That's the cheapest fine in Stanislaus County. The same offense will cost you $221 in Turlock, Modesto or Ceres.
Since summer, Riverbank deputies have been writing tickets for some traffic violations based on city codes instead of under the state Vehicle Code, which is the standard practice.
Riverbank drivers are ticketed for a lower amount, the Department of Motor Vehicles isn't notified and the city keeps all of the money — instead of getting a fraction back from the state under a standard ticket.
Riverbank and Newman are among a handful of California cities that are issuing tickets based on their local codes, bringing in extra revenue during a time of tight budgets and what some municipal officials have called state raids on their funding.
For instance, Riverbank expects the tickets will add $80,000 to its general fund when the budget year ends June 30, said Marisela Hernandez, the city's finance director.
But a state senator wants to end the practice.
Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, has introduced Senate Bill 949 to clarify the state Vehicle Code sections that she says are ambiguous or have been misconstrued, allowing local jurisdictions to enforce moving violations under their own ordinances.
"This dual system is confusing, unfair and robs the state of legitimate income," she said.
Oropeza's office said insurance companies don't learn about the tickets because the DMV is not notified so they get incomplete information when they set premiums, giving bad drivers an undeserved break and making good drivers pay more.
Federal highway funds at risk
The practice also puts federal highway funding at risk, Oropeza said, because the state doesn't have complete information on moving violations, which are among the data used to calculate federal funding.
Newman Police Chief Adam McGill said his city was aware of the pros and the cons when it started its program in October, modeled after Riverbank's.
"We're pleased with it, and there are enough protections and safeguards in place," he said.
Riverbank City Manager Rich Holmer said the Vehicle Code lets cities amend their codes to enforce traffic sign-age, such as speed limits, stop signs, and yield and right-of-way signs.
Cities cannot issue an administrative ticket for such offenses as driving under the influence, reckless driving and running a red light.
Since making the change, officials with Riverbank and Newman say about a third of the tickets issued have been based on the cities' codes, with the rest issued under the Vehicle Code.
In Riverbank, 536 municipal tickets have been issued out of 1,418 tickets since the program started this summer, said sheriff's Sgt. Vince Kimbrough, whose duties include overseeing traffic enforcement in Riverbank.
Officials with both cities say the municipal tickets are issued at officers' discretion and after reviewing a motorist's driving record, and only for motorists who commit minor offenses, such as driving 31 mph in a 25 mph zone.
"It's an opportunity to fix someone's behavior with a little bit of a sting," Kimbrough said about the $100 ticket Riverbank deputies issue, adding that some motorists appreciate getting the lower administrative ticket because they're struggling to make ends meet in the recession.
Tickets cost $150 in Newman
The administrative tickets are $150 in Newman. McGill said that amount was picked to match what the city typically charges residents for violating city codes, such as not having a dog on a leash.
Second-time offenders can be issued a $200 administrative ticket in Riverbank and a $300 ticket in Newman. But officials said they would be reluctant to do so because a driver did not learn a lesson after the first ticket.
Both cities said they have a hearing officer to hear appeals from drivers protesting their administrative tickets. McGill said no one has appealed in Newman, and Holmer said there have been five appeals in Riverbank.
Oropeza's office said Alameda County, Berkeley, Long Beach, Oakland and Roseville have passed ordinances letting them issue administrative tickets.
Oropeza's bill could come up for a hearing as soon as early March.
Holmer said Riverbank would oppose any attempt to stop it from issuing administrative tickets.
"The system is broken at the state level," he said. "What we have done is be proactive. First of all, all violators are being punished; the punishment is an equitable one. ... It just made sense for us to pursue this. Repeat offenders don't get this again. They don't get a city violation."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.