The cameras, which photograph cars running red lights and send out resulting tickets by mail, have been widely criticized as legally problematic and ineffective at preventing accidents.

"Nobody likes red-light cameras," said former Planning Commissioner Robert Hawkins, who opposes Measure EE.

Mayor Pro Tem Keith Curry said the city hasn't considered installing red-light cameras and that in theory an ordinance could suffice to keep them off city streets.

However, he said, taking up the issue in the charter is a way of signaling a priority to future councils.

"You never know who's going to be sitting up there two years from now," Curry said.

The private camera companies that contract with cities, he added, "are a powerful lobby, and in this age of 'No raising taxes,' they're an irresistible force [as a source of revenue.]"

Watkins said he didn't see a problem with the ban's late introduction. The language, he said, was borrowed from an Anaheim ballot measure voters approved in 2010.

"It made sense to me," he said. "So many red-light camera allowances are designed to raise revenue, and that just isn't in keeping with the tone of our city. ... It is a preemptive measure."

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Class-action lawsuits

Similarly, Harp said the prohibition against class-action lawsuits is a "prophylactic measure."

The city has not faced any class-action lawsuits in recent memory, he said, and he didn't know of any other cities that have adopted similar charter amendments.

"The way these class-action lawsuits work is they claim that every single person in the world is entitled to a dollar," he said. "The attorneys [who bring the suits] get a portion of whatever the ultimate settlement is, and the people get very little."

Curry said the idea is to "protect the taxpayers and the city against shakedown lawsuits," which he said suck up city resources in addition to the council's time.

Official ballot arguments against Measure EE say that the provision "restricts citizens' rights to recover illegally charged fees and may have questionable legality."

Hawkins argued that the change is redundant, saying state law protects against frivolous lawsuits.

In staff reports on legal justification for the amendment, acting Assistant City Attorney Michael Torres cited a California Supreme Court Decision, Ardon vs. the city of Los Angeles, in which a judge ruled that class-action claims could be filed against a local government, unless that entity has a "specific tax refund procedure set forth in applicable governing claims statute." The letter points to Newport Beach's claim procedure, which is written into the city's municipal code.

In other words, because the city has an established claim procedure, the memo says, the city can prohibit those from coming in the form of class-action claims.

Harp said a group could still come together to file a claim against the city.

"What would end up happening is if you have 100 people, they could submit the same basic claim form," he said. "This thing really isn't designed to prevent people with legitimate claims from getting redress for those claims."