Enjoy watching a street takeover? In Alameda County, it could cost you a $1,000 fine and 3 months in jail

A person with arms raised hangs out of a car's passenger window as the vehicle spins in an intersection, smoke trailing.
A crowd surrounds an early morning street takeover in South Los Angeles in 2022. A proposed law in Alameda County would impose fines and jail time on spectators of street takeovers.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Large crowds who gather at illegal street takeovers in Alameda County could face jail time or up to $1,000 in fines under a proposed new law that has raised concerns among 1st Amendment watchdogs who worry that it is overly broad and could penalize anyone caught near a street race.

Alameda County joins several neighboring municipalities in the San Francisco Bay Area in trying to tackle the growing problem of street takeovers and crowds gathered to watch dangerous car stunts. In addition to the fine, violators could be sentenced to up to three months in jail. The county Board of Supervisors advanced the ordinance in a first reading by a 4-1 vote and is scheduled to take a final vote July 11.

Cities in Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties all have put similar ordinances in place, according to Tona Henninger, chief of staff with Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley’s office.


Miley introduced the motion for the new law and said a sideshow activity — the term for events where people take over intersections to perform dangerous stunts — in the unincorporated parts of the county has escalated in recent years.

“I know the public is painfully aware of the proliferation of sideshow activity that’s occurred in other neighboring jurisdictions on freeways, on bridges, in broad daylight and all hours of the day and night. With hundreds of cars, hundreds of participants,” Miley said.

Street takeover spectators often gather in the middle of intersections to watch drivers perform car stunts. Sometimes, the frenzy can spill out of the intersection.

In Compton, a crowd watching a street takeover broke into a nearby gas station in April. Drivers have hit and killed spectators after their cars veered into crowds, and some people have been fatally shot while watching takeovers. Officials in Alameda County complain that takeovers have damaged residential neighborhoods in the unincorporated parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Takeovers can play out in the middle of the night on isolated streets or in the day, when other drivers are caught in the mayhem.

Street racing and takeovers have been around for decades, but the practice surged in popularity during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, when city streets had little to no traffic, according to law enforcement.


Other jurisdictions in the state have passed similar laws to discourage spectators at street takeovers — including the city of Los Angeles, which has had a law in place since 2001.

Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez co-wrote Alameda County’s proposed ordinance and said the law would give deputies another tool to break up street takeovers. Typically, people from outside the county travel to a sideshow because it’s advertised online, Sanchez said. County officials recognized some of the concerns from 1st Amendment advocates, she said.

“This is not going to deter anyone from being able to report out on these incidents,” Sanchez said. “This really just gives the Sheriff’s Office a tool to address the issue appropriately.”

Alameda County Assistant County Counsel Scott Dickey said the ordinance would give law enforcement officers the discretion to go after someone encouraging a sideshow, not necessarily those who are recording the event or who are in the area by accident.

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said the very word “spectator” in the ordinance is overly broad, because the law doesn’t designate how many people can be allowed to view the event.

“When it comes to the constitutionality of this law, I am concerned,” Woods said. “I think there are some ordinances in cities that have been passed where the constitutionality has not been challenged. I anticipate here in Alameda County this one will be challenged.”


A spectator must be knowingly and intentionally present at a sideshow — and within 200 feet of the event — in order to be subject to citation or arrest, according to Alameda County officials. Officers responding to a sideshow will have discretion to break up the event, but critics of the law say that sideshow participants typically are already violating the law when they block an intersection or drive recklessly.

“There are laws already on the books to prevent that type of activity,” said Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel with the National Press Photographers Assn. He added that citizens who show up to videotape the street takeovers should not be targeted by the law because they can discourage the illegal events by recording who is taking part.

David Loy, legal director with the First Amendment Coalition, urged the county to reconsider adopting the law, saying it violates a person’s constitutional right for a narrowly tailored purpose and it doesn’t leave any alternatives for someone to record a sideshow.

“When a government agency says, ‘We promise not to abuse our power’ is when there’s cause for concern,” Loy said.