San Jose leaders outlaw watching street races
The San Jose City Council, as seen in this file photo, voted Tuesday to fast track development in North San Jose.

Being a spectator at a street race is now a misdemeanor in San Jose – carrying penalties of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to adopt a law, at the police department’s recommendation, to make it illegal to be a spectator within 200 feet of a street race, side show or any other spectacle of reckless driving. The council also approved an initiative chartered by Councilmembers Maya Esparza and Johnny Khamis to explore funding for overtime staffing for the Racing Enforcement Detail, and for city officials to compile more information on arrests and citations of street racing to help improve enforcement.

“It’s imperative that when these exhibitions occur that we’re able to do all that’s necessary to stop the crowds,” said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia.

The police department currently staffs its Racing Enforcement Detail with on-duty personnel and often has to pull additional officers and draw from its overtime general fund, according to Garcia.

Councilmembers Lan Diep, Sylvia Arenas and Raul Peralez, however, voiced some concern over the law’s definition of a spectator.

“If I saw a crowd, I may just pull over out of curiosity,” Diep said. “I feel somehow it might provide too much discretion.”

Arenas worried about the incarceration of the San Jose’s youth and that the city was going from zero to 60 in implementing the plan.

“The first phase is the educational piece,” she said. “I don’t see anything scaffolded here. I just see you’re here, the assumption is that you’ve created a barrier and you’re subject to a misdemeanor — that’s difficult for me to understand.”

Esparza and Khamis – in conjunction with Garcia – said it’s imperative to roll out the policy before the summer.

“Summer is when some kids are out of school and there might be more spectators,” Khamis said. “There’s longer days and more potential for activity.”

Garcia agreed, stating that there is an uptick in street racing and side shows in the summer months.

Mayor Sam Liccardo, drawing on his expertise as a former lawyer, inquired if the police department could add on additional charges like blocking traffic or videotaping the event. Garcia responded by saying he thought this would be enough of a deterrent.

“There’s other crimes, whether dog fighting (or) cock fights, where the mere presence alone is shown by being a spectator at these events (and) there is a nexus to these crimes,” Garcia said. “Doing the donuts without anybody watching is kind of boring.”

The City Council will receive an update on the new law in six months, along with the additional data on arrests and citations requested by Esparza and Khamis.

Development subsidies

As councilors reviewed a potential payout of fee exemptions for affordable housing, labor leaders on Tuesday struck back over a deal they cut with Liccardo last year.

In a move to fast track development, the city has four different types of exemptions in the affordable housing impact fee and inclusionary zoning ordinance programs. Inclusionary zoning is a city policy that requires developers to set aside at least 15 percent of new housing units for low-income residents.

Last year, the South Bay Labor Council, Working Partnerships USA, the Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building Trades and the Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, and Sprinkler Fitters Union were locked in negotiations with elected leaders over a potential ballot measure to enact a gross-receipt tax on large corporations.

One labor leader familiar with the negotiations said they agreed to drop the measure – something they said had polled favorably – in exchange for the City Council adopting workforce standards to ensure local construction workers were being paid a prevailing wage. Union bosses claimed developers were hiring construction workers from other states and paying them less than the region’s prevailing wage.

The City Council in April 2018 approved a proposal from Liccardo, requiring developers to pay prevailing wages city-subsidized projects. The city manager was supposed to return to council with a new law – that was over a year ago and labor leaders say that has yet to come to fruition.

The debate was resurrected Tuesday as the City Council reviewed exemptions for $128.4 million in fees developers would’ve paid to build affordable housing. Will Smith, a union representative from IBEW Local 332, used a holiday-themed analogy to voice his frustration.

“Next thing you know the developer’s stockings will be stuffed with building height increases and opportunity zone goodies as well,” he said. “I bet those developers got what they wanted without sitting in Santa Liccardo’s lap because Santa Liccardo doesn’t view developers as being naughty. They all get a pass and go straight to the nice list.”

Liccardo responded by saying he had every intention to comply with the agreement reached last year.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this concern,” he said. “In the future, if people have concerns, they should give me a phone call.”

Peralez pressed city officials on when a proposal would return to council, citing his March 19 memo on receiving a workforce standards update. Officials did not have a definite answer to when it would be complete.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who has voiced support for these types of developer subsidies in the past, said he would have to reconsider next time a similar proposal came before council, especially because developers don’t appear to be building enough affordable housing.

“I don’t have an appetite to extend these subsidies as they expire,” he said. “You look through the report and all you see is market rate, market rate, market rate.”

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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