Santa Clara lawmakers tackle illegal street racing, pedestrian safety plan
The Santa Clara City Council heard a presentation on illegal street racing before approving an ordinance to increase enforcement. Photo by Katie Lauer.

The streets and sidewalks of Santa Clara were a top priority during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

City lawmakers unanimously approved a plan to tackle illegal street racing, side shows and tire-burning doughnuts around the city.

City Manager Deanna Santana will draft an ordinance to address the drivers and spectators of illegal street races and shows. The policy calls for issuing fines for people who engage in or attend the shows — specifically targeting spectators who are present at the “speed contests and reckless driving exhibitions.”

The city can pursue criminal or civil action, in addition to issuing administrative citations ranging from $500 on the first offense and $1,000 for the second and subsequent violations in a three-year period.

Councilmember Teresa O’Neill was absent for the vote.

Lawmakers also approved other measures to combat street racing, including assigning cases to the police department’s traffic unit and training officers in enforcement.

The ideas approved Tuesday stemmed from research conducted by Matrix Consulting Group, which was hired by the city in 2019. Manager John Scruggs presented Tuesday a compilation of mapped incidents, on-site interviews and 275 online surveys about both planned and spontaneous illegal street racing and side shows.

While his firm found 73 calls for service about possible incidents of illegal street racing, the report concluded that many people believe calling the police to report the incidents is ineffective.

This is a citywide issue, but Scruggs said illegal street racing centers near long roadways with two lanes, most notably at Tasman/Lafayette and El Camino Real/Lawrence Expressway. His data also showed the events are happening most often between 2 p.m. and 1 a.m., with more than a quarter of the reports happening on Sundays.

The council discussed additional next steps to address the problem, such as giving notice or citations to the owners of the cars involved — that’s easier to prove in court than the identities of the drivers — and exploring state legislation to allow for license plate reading cameras for speed enforcement.

Councilmember Karen Hardy suggested reaching out to the city’s lobbyists to raise the issue in Sacramento, especially “if (speed cameras are) the only thing that statically shows it makes a difference.”

Residents on Tuesday expressed relief that the city is outlawing spectators and making new efforts to stop street racing.

“It’s 100 feet from my bedroom. It wakes us up at 11:00 at night, it’s during the daytime in broad daylight, there’s kids biking around the corner when they do these doughnuts,” said resident Matt Kucic. “If you watch the videos, you can hear how crazy this is. It’s a nightmare.”

San Jose last year also cracked down on street racing, making it illegal to watch the racing events and shows.

Pedestrian safety

Also Tuesday, the City Council unanimously adopted the city’s first Pedestrian Master Plan, which recommends 382 projects to bolster pedestrian safety, including adding signals and crossings, creating a Vision Zero plan and installing better lighting.

The goal of the plan is to make the city a community where it is “safe, convenient and comfortable” to walk, according to Public Works Director Craig Mobeck. To accomplish this, nine priority pedestrian zones were identified that had the most potential to become denser walkable areas, including Rivermark Lickmill, Downtown/University, Central Santa Clara and Scott/Monroe.

Mobeck said on Tuesday that 73 percent of city streets have sidewalks on both sides, while 70 percent of the city’s intersections have curb ramps. While only around 4 percent of Santa Clara residents get around using the 550 miles of sidewalk throughout the city, the hope is to double that rate in the next eight to nine years.

“I think people want to walk, but I don’t think they feel safe,” Councilmember Debi Davis said, noting that she recently saw a pedestrian almost get hit at the intersection of Homestead Road and San Tomas Expressway. “We want them to walk, but at the same time, there’s a lot of fear still out there.”

The plan has an estimated construction cost of around $194 million. But while the masterplan was approved Tuesday, that does not mean that the budget for the entire project was approved, nor was each individual project within the plan green-lit. Those projects will come back to the council for approval and funding at a later date.

Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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