Very seldom I can agree with CDW but here I ditto - don't miss the date!
It isn't 100% clear from what you wrote, but if the paperwork you presently have says "you must respond to the court on or before (date)" then all you have to do is go over there, or call them, any time or day, as long as it is before 4 pm on the date shown. You can ask for an extension, which they will give you without any hassles or $$.
Because of the often-doubled volume of tickets caused by new red light cameras, some courts are having trouble keeping up - and that may be why you didn't receive a courtesy notice. Here is a bulletin issued last year by one court (the City of Bakersfield had just started their red light camera system and was issuing 900 tickets a month):
"KERN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
"TRAFFIC DIVISION EXPERIENCES A “TRAFFIC JAM!”
"Due to a large increase in the number of tickets received by the Traffic Division of the Superior Court, many of our customers are being inconvenienced by appearing at the court on the date given on their traffic ticket, only to be given another date because the ticket was not in our system.
"In order to reduce these incidents and better serve the public, we are advising our customers to wait until they receive a courtesy notice from the court before appearing. If they have not received their courtesy notice three days prior to the appearance date on their ticket, they should call the court at 868-2382 to check on the status of their ticket or e-mail the traffic division at http://www.co.kern.ca.us/courts/email_privpol.asp?s=t
"The court is endeavoring to reduce the entry time for this large increase in traffic citations and hope that any inconvenience is short term. "
Bottom line is, you'd better show up - unless you have an email or something else in writing from the court saying that it's OK to come later.
I'd also like to mention something else peculiar to Bakersfield and about a dozen other cities in CA. They have begun mailing "tickets" to you, that look like red light camera tickets, but are actually just an effort to get you to snitch on the person in the photo. How can you tell the difference between a real ticket and these snitch "tickets?" A real ticket gives the name and address of the superior court and says "respond to the court...." The snitch "tickets" ask you to contact the police or an address in Arizona. They do not have the name and address of the court. And since they have not been filed with the court, they have no more legal weight than the piece of paper they are printed on. You can ignore them.