On Monday, the Pittsburg City Council agreed in a 5-0 vote with an ordinance that would fine spectators at illegal speed contests, exhibitions of speed or sideshows.
Those who participate and watch sideshows on private property could face a misdemeanor, subject to six-months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
The move comes as cities such as San Jose, Fairfield and Vallejo have implemented similar ordinances.
Councilmember Merl Craft offered some concerns regarding proving a violation had occurred calling it “muddy” such as how long they were at a scene.
Pittsburg Police Lt. Phil Galer explained this would be at the discretion of officers and common sense—this could be a “heads up” to get in front of them and people who are “established” and stay with what was going on. An officer when they articulate that in a police report.
“We all agree they are dangerous and would love to have as much leverage as we can to use against them to make these things stop,” stated Craft. “Just the question of how long they were there… how do we make this work.”
Galer explained there were several components to take the burden of discretion to fit into the puzzle.
Craft stated she asked the question because she wanted to use the strongest language possible to protect the citizens.
Councilmember Jelani Killings asked about other policies and experiences where other cities who have done this similar.
Galer stated both cities he was aware of was in Solano County—Fairfield and Vallejo—which it allows them to not only go after the driver, but can go after spectators who are unable to leave because the drivers are already in vehicles when police show up.
“The flight from these incidents from us arriving on scene is extremely chaotic and have had to developed tactics so we can safely respond to these things,” explained Galer who said they want to mitigate the flight of vehicles away from the scene. “Those vehicles flee, the spectators remain this now has an opportunity to change their behavior maybe that might with a citation or misdemeanor arrest.”
Killings stated he favored the intent behind the policy but did have concerns over mass sweeps of people who get wrapped up in sideshows and understanding the purpose of deterrent behavior. He also wanted to question the impact of the policy.
“Do we see likelihood of actual prosecution of these violations?” asked Killings. “Are these considered low level and not prosecuted at all? I am not trying to make this more political but what does this process and energy look like when responding to these types of events. Is it one or two people or large amount of spectators?”
Galer explained that the charges are a misdemeanor and could be charged or lowered to an infraction which once they file its out of Pittsburg Police hands. He said the ordinance is focused on people who travel to the area specifically to block intersections and participate in sideshows—not people who happen to be in the area and get people caught in the net at the time of a sideshow.
Mayor Halland Barrett White said this policy was aimed at sending two messages.
“The first is if you see someone moving forward or backwards, you need to move out of the way. Just go and I think that is the easiest way to avoid being caught up in a scenario that could lead to a possible violation. The second message, not in Pittsburg, even if you don’t have an audience, we have cameras everywhere. This is a good step forward,” said White.
He also urged the Pittsburg Police Department to come back in a year to look at how the ordinance is doing and what improvements need to be made.
Craft stated she would be in favor of adding citations so people learn a lesson while paying out of pocket—Pittsburg can only fine up to $1,000 per state law.
Vice Mayor Shanelle Scales-Preston said this was more about protecting the community and said they went for the maximum fine and not go from city-to-city.
“I think we have been talking about this for quite some time and its probably been since our public safety committee started. The community has come out and spoken to us about donuts along Crestview, sideshows at Home Depot, Target parking lot and it just needs to stop. We need to keep people safe,” said Scales-Preston. “Even the spectators, they are out there filming it as the cars are spinning donuts. I agree with councilmember Craft to hit their pocket books.”
Scales-Preston stated she was happy with the policy and that Pittsburg was being a leader in Contra Costa County by bringing this forward.
“Maybe they will keep down Highway 4 and not stop in Pittsburg,” said Scales-Preston.
White stated “not in Pittsburg” with this policy, plus community cameras and license plate readers.
The Council then voted 5-0 to approve the policy.
Per the Ordinance:
It is unlawful for any individual to:
A. Be knowingly present as a spectator at an illegal motor vehicle speed contest, exhibition of speed, or sideshow; or
1. Be knowingly present as a spectator where preparations are being made for an illegal motor vehicle speed contest, exhibition of speed, or sideshow.
B. An individual is present at an illegal motor vehicle speed contest, exhibition of speed, or sideshow if that individual is on a public street or highway, public property, or on private property without the consent of the owner, operator, or agent thereof, and is within two hundred (200) feet of the location of the event or within two hundred (200) feet of the location where preparations are being made for the event.
Any person who violates this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor subject to a maximum of six (6) months in jail and a fine of $1,000, unless at the discretion of the district attorney, the violation is reduced to an infraction. The city may seek compliance with this chapter by any remedy allowed under this code and any other remedy allowed by law, including but not limited to the administrative citation procedures set forth in PM 1.20.030. The amount of the administrative fine is $1,000 for each violation.
Per the Staff Report:
Vehicle exhibitions and street racing have been a recurring concern for the health and safety of motorists, pedestrians, and residents in the City. These activities have caused fatal collisions, property damage and traffic congestion; creating a public nuisance. Illegal speed contests, exhibitions of speed, and sideshows pose a clear danger to the residents of the City and the motoring public traveling on the roadways within the City. Current State law does not allow for enforcement on private property, where many of these events occur. The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to prohibit spectators at illegal racing events with the aim of significantly curbing the criminal activity
Sideshows and street racing events have become a consistent issue for law enforcement. Larger cities in the Bay Area and the Central Valley have seen an increase in the frequency of these illegal street racing activities. Street racing threatens the health and safety of the public, interferes with the pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and creates a public nuisance. In addition, there have been numerous examples of these events being accompanied by gunfire, which can often result in death and serious injuries.
At speed contests and exhibitions of speed, street racers accelerate to high speeds without regard to oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or vehicles parked or moving nearby. In most situations, sideshows attract hundreds of spectators to gather on the streets late at night and in the early morning hours, blocking the streets and sidewalks to traffic, to form a racetrack area for stunt or reckless driving. The spectators provide protection to those drivers by blocking roadways, which prevents law enforcement from approaching or contacting the reckless drivers. The spectators provide significant motivation for the
sideshows, as the crowd size and participation encourage the actual drivers to engage in the activity
Vehicle Code sections 23103 through 23109 provide that motor vehicle speed contests and exhibitions of speed conducted on public streets and highways are illegal. However, State law currently does not address spectators at these events and is silent about these events, drivers, and spectators that occur on private property.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit spectators at illegal street racing events, provide notice as to what activities are lawful and unlawful, and identify penalties for violations of this ordinance. In response to illegal street racing and sideshow activities, several cities have adopted ordinances banning spectators at street racing events. These cities have reported that these ordinances are an effective tool to combat dangerous activities and to limit spectator involvement at street racing, exhibitions of speed, and sideshows.