Watching a street race could soon lead to fines and jail time in Santa Ana

Street race
Two cars prepare to square off in an early morning street race in South L.A. in 2018.
(Daniel Miller)

It may soon be illegal to watch street races in Santa Ana.

The City Council provided initial approval this week to an ordinance that allows police to target spectators who knowingly attend a street race within 200 feet of the event. Although a violation may include a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the city must first provide a written warning to any accused spectator.

Council members came to the decision to include the written warning after some heated debate on the ordinance, which was approved on a 4-3 vote. Mayor Vicente Sarmiento and Council Members Johnathan Hernandez and Jessie Lopez dissented. Because this was the first reading of the ordinance, the council will provide final approval at its next meeting.

The ordinance is meant to deter people from attending street races, which have been a problem in Santa Ana and other parts of Orange County. Some contend spectators encourage street racing by promoting the events on social media. The presence of spectators may also attract street racers looking for an audience.

But some council members questioned whether targeting spectators is the right move, and whether it would lead to people not involved being cited.


“Living in this community my whole life ... I’ve seen tons of horrible things that I did not want to see,” Hernandez said. “As soon as we heard something happen outside — myself, my neighbors, my grandmother, my mom — we all would run outside and watch what would happen. It would not sit well with me to see a cul-de-sac have a street takeover unwillingly, then residents come out of their houses, or come out of their business establishments, and be fined. I wouldn’t want to see that happen. That’s my concern.”

Santa Ana is not the only city wrestling with how best to quell street racing. Anaheim, San Diego, Ontario and San Jose have all adopted ordinances that punish spectators.

Street racing has led to serious consequences in Orange County. In January, Eugene Harbrecht, a longtime editor with the Orange County Register, was killed when a car that was street racing hit his truck. A month before that, a Huntington Beach videographer was killed while filming an illegal street race in Carson. Daniel “Dano” Patten was known for filming car shows and other events around the city.

During a presentation to the council, Santa Ana Police Traffic Division Cmdr. Chuck Elms said two people were killed in July due to street racing. The deaths came during a significant increase of street racing and intersection takeovers in the city. Elms said the city has cracked down on street racing, which has resulted in fewer incidents. The focus on punishing spectators is seen as the next step in deterring street racing.

“One of the main reasons for street racing and one of the biggest attractions to the street racers are spectators,” said Council Member Nelida Mendoza. “So it is putting these spectators in danger and risk of being hurt or killed. So I believe that by issuing citations to those who violate the law is appropriate because it could be saving their lives, and eventually it will decrease the number of spectators.”

Lopez said she would rather police target the drivers.

Elms said the department does target drivers, but they can pursue only one or two vehicles at a scene because officers have to navigate through hundreds of spectators. Elms said spectators intentionally block and vandalize police cars, giving the drivers a chance to get away.

“We need to be able to not only target these drivers, which we have been doing, but also the spectators,” Elms said. “If we start targeting spectators, they will stop coming to Santa Ana. That’s what we want.”

Brazil writes for Times Community News.