UPDATE: San Jose approves penalties for encouraging sideshow spectators
A San Jose police cruiser. File photo.

    Posting about sideshows and street races in San Jose on social media can now cost you up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

    The San Jose City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance Tuesday that will make it illegal to encourage or promote people to show up to a sideshow event.

    San Jose already targets sideshow audiences to combat the illegal gatherings. But Tuesday’s ordinance will now allow the city to penalize people who encourage others to organize or go to sideshows.

    Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000, serve up to six months in jail or both.

    “There are other agencies that are watching us and watching how we created the toolbox on how to handle sideshows,” said Capt. Todd Trayer of the San Jose Police Department.

    San Jose police will track promoters through methods like witness testimony and social media.

    “I think promoters and anyone that further shares the information (about sideshows) should be held accountable, and I’m glad we’re moving in that direction,” Trudy Ellerbeck, treasurer of the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Association, told San José Spotlight on Monday.

    She added that the city could do more to mitigate traffic and says the city could be more assertive to stop people from outside the city from coming into San Jose and participating in sideshows.

    Ellerbeck says she can hear sideshows where she lives in East San Jose on Fridays and Saturdays, though she says they are more than a mile away.

    “This touches every part of the city. Our residents are dealing with this day in and day out,” Councilmember Maya Esparza said. “And I can hear it. It’s not just about the dangers of street racing and the sideshows, which are dangerous enough in and of themselves. But it’s also the increasing amount of incidents of gunfire at sideshows that really take the endangerment of the community to the next level.”


    Councilmember Sylvia Arenas says residents in her district have gone as far as creating their own speed bumps to try to stop speeding.

    Her colleague, Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, shared a similar story, saying she often hears sideshows outside her house until 1 a.m.

    “It’s sheer insanity to hear rubber burning and then gunshots,” she said. “I hope folks finally get the message. … Folks should be able to go to bed at a decent hour at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning.”

    The approval Tuesday comes after a discussion March 30 and the council directing the city attorney’s office to draft a law.

    A sideshow is an illegal gathering of cars in a parking lot or intersection. Drivers perform donuts and other stunts, which attract large crowds that spill into busy intersections, putting the lives of spectators and drivers at risk. Many sideshows take place at night, drawing complaints from neighbors about loud noises and racing cars.

    When police arrive at sideshows, racers and spectators flee the site and gather at another location. Responding to sideshows pulls resources from other emergencies, city officials said.

    According to SJPD data, from September 2020 to February 2021, the department received 2,421 calls about illegal car-related gatherings. A residence in South San Jose received a staggering 157 calls during that time period.



    A resident, Chris, who didn’t give his last name, voiced concerns about a recent sideshow at Stevens Creek and Winchester.

    “Our community was very dismayed about the lack of police actions to reel that in,” he said.

    The most common intersections for calls include East Capitol Expressway and Tully Road with 24 calls, Story Road and South King Road with 21 calls, East Capitol Expressway and Quimby Road with 20 calls and three locations along Yerba Buena Road.

    In an effort to prevent the illegal gatherings, San Jose will begin designing several quick-build projects later this summer intended to address unsafe driving at five intersections identified by SJPD, including 10th Street and Phelan Avenue, Hillsdale Road & Communications Hill Boulevard, Little Orchard Street and Barnard Avenue, 5550 Hellyer Avenue and 2121 Ringwood Avenue and Lundy Avenue and Concourse Drive.

    A map shows the city’s hotspots for sideshows and racing. Courtesy of San Jose.

    The city expects to complete the projects by next year.

    The city installed yellow dividers at another sideshow hotspot, Yerba Buena and Verona Roads earlier this year.

    The SJPD is also looking at other technology, such as cameras, according to Trayer.

    The city closed down Roosevelt Park ahead of Cinco de Mayo in anticipation of sideshows to celebrate last month’s holiday.

    High-speed races are another problem the city hopes to solve with the new policy. Just two weeks ago, a 19-year-old man died after crashing into a tree on Capitol Expressway in South San Jose.

    “We’ve seen too many tragedies in our city,” Councilmember Matt Mahan, whose district includes South San Jose, told San José Spotlight on Monday. “My message to street racers is that it isn’t worth losing your life. These new measures help reinforce that point.”

    New yellow dividers were added to Yerba Buena Road to discourage sideshows and racing. Courtesy of the city of San Jose.

    San Jose already passed a law in 2019 that bans audiences at sideshows. Gathering at a sideshow or street race is a misdemeanor and can carry up to a $1,000 fine. Tuesday’s proposal will make it illegal to encourage or help people gather at sideshows and street racing events.

    According to Police Chief Anthony Mata, the city will use social media and newsletters to warn residents against participating in sideshows and racing.

    Ellerbeck says she understands that SJPD is understaffed, and likely won’t get to every sideshow in the city.

    “There’s got to be more of a regional approach so that those who are engaging in these activities won’t be able to travel so quickly from one city to the next,” Ellerbeck said.

    To report a sideshow, dial the SJPD’s non-emergency line at 408-277-8900 or click here.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.


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