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

Two cars prepare to square off in an early morning street race in South Los Angeles in September 2018.
Two cars prepare to square off in an early morning street race in South Los Angeles in September 2018 as a crowd of onlookers, including members of the Brotherhood of Street Racers, take in the action.
(Daniel Miller)

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

At its last meeting earlier this month, the council voted 4-3 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 on 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. On Tuesday, Bacerra took umbrage with the written warning component of the ordinance 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.

Aside from the Nov. 17 arrest of a man who reportedly confronted officers outside a grocery store, only one other citation was issued by CMPD.

At the last meeting, Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan added the written warning to the language of the ordinance so that spectators would be issued the warning before any fine or infraction.

“To me, the purpose of this ordinance was not to give our [police department] 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. 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 3-4, with dissenting votes from Mayor Vicente Sarmiento and council members Johnathan Hernandez, Jessie Lopez and Phan.

Phan then proposed her original ordinance, which also failed with a 3-4 vote. Sarmiento, Hernandez, Bacerra and Lopez dissented.

“I certainly understand and appreciate the intention of this — an effort to try to prevent and stop street racing,” 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.”

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