Many residents around San Jose may know the sounds of illegal street racing all too well: cars revving, tires screeching and even worse, guns firing.
On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved drafting a new law that seeks to put an end to the chaos before it even starts.
Police data shows people are coming from near and far to participate in San Jose sideshows, which often include dangerous exhibitions of speed, large crowds and violence. The new law will make it illegal to promote or support such events in San Jose on social media or other platforms. The enforcement process and penalties are yet to be determined.
“Over the past few years, one of the things I’ve seen while living here is six deaths of kids due to exhibition of speed and illegal street racing,” said Aman Diwakar, a resident of South San Jose. “I’ve seen that the grief that (street racing) can cause, so I urge the city to take whatever precaution they need to take in order to address this.”
Dozens of letters of support for the new law flooded in from other concerned residents, who have seen the impacts of street racing in their neighborhood.
Lawmakers also want to increase funding for police to tackle the issue. Burdened by a staff shortage, the San Jose police department is struggling to keep up with the growing sideshow activity. The events can draw crowds of 500 people or more, according to SJPD Capt. Todd Trayer. Officers are working overtime to stop races and impound cars, which draws their energy away from responding to other emergency and medical calls.
While San Jose police have started a racing task force, the city will look into deploying a special unit dedicated to cracking down on racing either in the police department or at the county level as a task force. Police are looking into using license plate readers to collect data on racers and seize cars.
Just this week, San Jose police responded to illegal racing activity at Capitol Expressway and Tully Road. SJPD seized one vehicle for 30 days and an individual was arrested nearby for striking a police helicopter with a laser.
2/ We cited 15 people for various violations. One vehicle was towed for 30 days. Also, a person was arrested nearby that was striking our helicopter with a laser. That crime is a felony. We will arrest you and book you into jail.
— San José Police Media Relations (@SJPD_PIO) March 28, 2021
Earlier this month, San Jose police arrested three people for having firearms at an illegal racing event. SJPD seized five cars and made one arrest for reckless driving.
“This is not low and slow. This is fast. This is dangerous,” said Councilmember Maya Esparza, who co-authored the initial proposal along with Councilmember Dev Davis. Esparza on Tuesday read the names of individuals who died while participating in street races. “We’re not just protecting the neighborhoods, we’re protecting the people that participate in the sideshows.”
San Jose’s transportation department is looking to make roads less agreeable to speeding and driving donuts. By May or June, the city will narrow lanes and put half circle islands in five racing hotspots in San Jose, which they hope will slow down cars near major intersections.
San Jose already has a law that makes it illegal to be a sideshow spectator. The crime is a misdemeanor which can lead up to $1,000 fines. The city still needs to work out the details of how exactly the new promoter law will be enforced.
According to SJPD data, 43% of the people who received citations for watching the shows or reckless driving were from San Jose, while the majority — 57% — were from 44 other cities. Esparza said people know San Jose police is struggling to respond to races, making San Jose an easy target.
Councilmember Pam Foley is ready to kick racers out of town.
“I’m appalled that 57% of the people that citations were issued to are from out of the city we need to not make it attractive for them to be here,” Foley said. “I want the city to be safe on the streets and it isn’t right now when it comes to sideshows.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.