San Jose is first major city to criminalize promoting sideshows online

The ordinance makes it a crime to promote, instigate or encourage an illegal street racing event or sideshow online


By Maggie Angst
East Bay Times

SAN JOSE, Calif. — If you're considering using social media to stir up an illegal street race or sideshow in the nation's tenth largest city, you might want to reconsider.

San Jose leaders on Tuesday night unanimously passed a new ordinance that makes it a crime to promote, instigate or encourage an illegal street racing event or sideshow online, becoming what is thought to be the first city in the U.S. to do so.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and face fines of up to $1,000, six months in jail or some combination of the two.

"Don't come to San Jose — that's the message," said councilmember Maya Esparza.

The new measure marks the city's latest attempt to deter people from participating in dangerous and reckless driving, racing and performing stunts on San Jose roads and parking lots, especially in events that tend to attract crowds of galvanizing spectators.

"Folks should be able to go to bed at a decent hour and not have their lives disrupted at one, two, three o'clock in the morning," councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said during the meeting.

San Jose officials in 2019 began by adopting an ordinance that allowed police officers to charge a street racing and sideshow spectators with a misdemeanor.

Although a growing number of cities and states have adopted similar legislation that targets street racing spectators, San Jose police chief Anthony Mata said that San Jose "to the best of his knowledge" is the first city to take a step further and punish people who also promote and encourage such events but may not attend or participate in them.

"Other agencies are looking for our leadership to both enforce the spectator law as well as enact this law sanctioning the facilitation of spectators," Mata wrote in a memo to the city council. "Given the important role facilitators play in encouraging and popularizing these events, discouraging their participation is an important step in combating the problem."

City officials say that the illegal activity, which experienced a spike during the pandemic as stay-at-home orders created large empty parking lots and streets, not only causes a nuisance for nearby residents but also pulls police department resources away from other community needs and endangers participants and spectators.

At least eight people, including participants and innocent bystanders, have lost their lives in recent years in suspected street racing events across San Jose. Most recently, 19-year-old Jamie Pech was killed in a crash on June 11 in South San Jose when he and the driver of another vehicle both swerved off the road and smashed into separate trees during what police believed was a street race.

Only 43% of people cited for driving in or attending a San Jose sideshow in early 2020 were from the city of San Jose, according to data released by the department in March. The remaining 57% cited traveled to San Jose from more than two dozen cities across California, including San Francisco, Livermore, Los Angeles and Stockton.

Within the past three months, the department has received nearly 200 calls for service regarding sideshows, San Jose police Capt. Todd Trayer told the council on Tuesday.

By scouring social media and other means, officers will attempt to identify reoccurring event promoters, track down those who encourage an event that takes place in San Jose and cite them in hopes that it will discourage them from future instigations.

"Why that matters is because if you don't invite people to the party, then there's no guest list and there will be no sideshow," Trayer said.

In addition to the new ordinance aimed at punishing event promoters, the city's Department of Transportation is launching its own pilot program aimed at curbing sideshows. The department is installing new paving markers and deterrent barriers meant to narrow down streets and deter donuts in ten intersections across the city.

"We just keep adding to the tools in our toolbox," said councilmember Dev Davis, "and I think they'll get the message that this is not an activity that we allow in this city."

(c)2021 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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