Santa Ana reverses decision that would have made it illegal to watch street races

A South L.A. street race
Two cars prepare for an early morning street race in South Los Angeles.
(Daniel Miller / Los Angeles Times)

The Santa Ana City Council this week reversed its initial approval of an ordinance that would have imposed fines and jail time on people who watch street races.

At a meeting last month, the council voted 4 to 3 in favor of the ordinance, which would have allowed police to target spectators who knowingly attend a street race within 200 feet of the event. Although a violation of the ordinance would have included a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the city would have provided a written warning to any accused spectator.

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


The meeting Tuesday was the second reading of the street racing ordinance. Final approval was required by the council before it went into law.

Similar to the last meeting, some council members questioned whether targeting spectators is the right move and whether it would lead to innocent people being cited.

The difference in this decision was Councilman Phil Bacerra’s vote against the ordinance he initially supported. At the latest meeting, Bacerra took umbrage with the written warning component after Police Chief David Valentin said it could be difficult for officers to confirm that a spectator received a written warning out in the field during a street race.

At the previous meeting, Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan added the warning to the ordinance so that spectators would receive notice before any fine or infraction.

“To me, the purpose of this ordinance was not to give our [police] more busy work and more hoops to have to jump through to enforce what should be common sense,” Bacerra said.

“I don’t believe that our officers are going to come through a scene of a street racing incident and just apprehend everybody within sight. I don’t think they even have the capability to do that, let alone would they do that,” he said. “I was open to seeing where this ordinance could go, and I was optimistic because I have faith in my colleagues that possibly we could see the right language composed. But in reading this section, I can’t support this language as is.”

Bacerra proposed an amended motion without the required written warning, but it failed.

“I certainly understand and appreciate the intention of this — an effort to try to prevent and stop street racing,” Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who wants to condone that or support that. I just think this is a solution that’s looking for anybody to cite…. It’s kind of misdirected because it goes after people who aren’t really organizing or participating in it.”


Brazil writes for Times Community News.