Thu. Feb 9th, 2023

Two Santa Ana residents were killed by street racers last year prompting the Santa Ana City Council, on Tuesday night to give initial approval to a new ordinance that prohibits spectators at street races and dangerous street takeovers, where drivers block intersections to show off maneuvers with their vehicles in front of hundreds of people.

Unbelievably three Council Members voted against the measure including Mayor Vince Sarmiento and City Council Members Jessie Lopez and Johnathan Ryan Hernandez even though over the past five years at least four people have died in Santa Ana during such events.

The ordinance would make it illegal for someone who is “knowingly present as a spectator” to gather within 200 feet of the site of a street or other reckless driving exhibition or its preparations. Those who break the law may be subject to a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Four council members — Phan, Mendoza, Phil Bacerra and David Penaloza voted for the ordinance but they also added a provision that would stave off issuing fines or jail time unless the person in question has a record of previously being warned at an earlier illegal car event.

Sarmiento, Lopez and Hernandez opposed the ordinance due to concerns about the penalties of a fine and up to six months in jail possibly placing an undue burden on those being punished. They also expressed concern that the proposed ordinance could sweep up people unjustly, including innocent bystanders who might be drawn to the street takeovers out of curiosity.

Phan and Sarmiento also raised First Amendment-related questions and whether the ordinance would violate the right to assemble. But Phan still voted for the ordinance while Sarmiento did not.

Sarmiento voted against the ordinance even though he admitted that illegal maneuvers called donuts have happened in front of his own home. But he noted that his son went out to record the maneuvers and as such could be liable, under the new ordinance, for viewing the event.

The SAPD however pointed out to the Council that spectators are a key reason why street racing continues and remains a threat to public safety. The SAPD suggested that the spectators are not just watching the street racing and street takeovers – they play an active role in these events. Targeting the spectators will help to stop these criminal events from happening in Santa Ana.

Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza sounded a lot more Mayoral than Sarmiento when she said that “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” leading to fewer car racers and their dangerous tricks.

In addition to the two fatalities last year, the SAPD also have been wasting immense resources dealing with street intersection takeovers that are happening almost nightly. Street takeovers involve drivers spinning their cars like donuts at intersections while crowds in the hundreds gather dangerously close without any guards or rails.

Currently Anaheim is the only other city in Orange County that has a law in its books targeting spectators at such events however there are other California cities with similar laws include Irwindale, Ontario, San Diego and San Jose.

Last fall, 11 Orange County police agencies created a task force to curtail street racing and related activity. Across Orange County, that task force was involved in 124 operations, which resulted in 2,316 citations, 261 cars impounded, 206 racing or reckless driving arrests or citations, and 82 miscellaneous arrests, according to the SAPD.

Besides enforcement, Santa Ana police have taken, or are looking at, other anti-racing measures. One that began last year has led to the desynchronization of street lights along some major city corridors to slow down drivers: late night traffic lights switch from red to green only for vehicles traveling at or below the speed limit.

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

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