Tom Butt
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  Sideshows in Richmond?
July 4, 2023

As cities and counties across the Bay Area step up enforcement and penalties related to sideshows, the RPA-controlled Richmond City Council continues to embrace them as a valuable cultural activity. Whether it’s illegal fireworks or sideshows, the City Council firmly believes that “criminalizing” (enforcing the law) almost anything is worse than the illegal act itself.

To the City Council, cops are worse than criminals. They believe criminal behavior of the general public, when it occurs, is a result of conditions that we have created and therefore should be tolerated. Cops, on the other hand, are simply evil and need to be defunded, diminished and punished.

This is the world (city) we live in.

Following is an article from today’s Bay Area News Group.

Battle over street sideshows intensifies as counties tighten crackdown

Culture vs. chaos debate gets a new wrinkle as prosecution of spectators sought

A person walks past tire marks from a recent sideshow are seen near the USS Hornet museum in Alameda, Calif., on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
A person walks past tire marks from a recent sideshow are seen near the USS Hornet museum in Alameda, Calif., on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

By WILL MCCARTHY | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: July 5, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: July 5, 2023 at 6:33 a.m.

In February, a big rig surrounded by dozens of cheering spectators spun tight circles beneath an underpass in Oakland, one man hanging off the back in a mad display of pandemonium.

In May, a blue sedan was set on fire and then repeatedly rammed by another vehicle as onlookers shouted and recorded the action in downtown Oakland.

Just weeks ago, thousands gathered at Alameda Point to watch cars drift across the hot tarmac, the San Francisco skyline rising behind them.

Sideshows — the informal, sometimes dangerous, often celebratory, and occasionally violent displays of motor vehicle stunts — are synonymous with the Bay Area. Originating in Oakland more than 40 years ago, they have grown into a subculture entirely unique to the region, as distinctive as summertime fog.

They’re also more popular — and brazenly public — than ever before, which has made them the target of increasingly severe crackdowns from city and county officials around the region, who describe them as chaotic and dangerous. With the Alameda County Board of Supervisors set to vote next week on a controversial new ordinance — which echoes one previously adopted in San Jose in 2019 — efforts now include making it illegal to even watch a sideshow.

Civil liberties advocates say these measures could be pushing the limits of constitutionality. What they have certainly done is intensified the debate over whether sideshows are part of the rich culture of the Bay Area or simply evidence of lawlessness.

“It’s a cool thing, I still remember in my early years, my neighbors would race down 45th Avenue, race down Foothill Boulevard,” said Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo. “But now it’s difficult for me to understand. We put millions into fixing the potholes, the neighborhood, and here you come around and destroy it. How do you justify that?”

To Gallo and other city and county leaders, sideshows are a colorful display of public anarchy — young teens destroying their own vehicles and neighborhoods in a quest for notoriety. Gunshots are fired. Cars are set aflame.

It’s a phenomenon that they believe is unacceptable. And they’re trying to end it.

San Jose, Pittsburg and Oakland all have laws that criminalize sideshows in some form, and Alameda County may be the next to follow suit.

On July 11, the Board of Supervisors will vote on an ordinance that would make it illegal to be within 200 feet of a sideshow, even as a spectator or a passer-by, in the unincorporated areas of the county. Violating the ordinance would result in a $1,000 fine and up to three months in prison.

The San Jose City Council passed an ordinance in April of 2019 that used the same criteria — a $1,000 fine for being caught within 200 feet of a sideshow — and San Jose police have used it to issue hundreds of citations since, including 500 at one sideshow in 2022. That incident over the Fourth of July weekend last year involved more than 200 vehicles at South 10th Street and Alma Avenue.

These new laws, according to Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, reflect the severity of the moment, and the public desire to put a stop to sideshows.

“We have rules on the books to help society have some type of order, as opposed to chaos,” Miley said. “I think sideshows are a demonstration of chaos.”

According to Miley, sideshows have become increasingly dangerous over the decades. Whereas they used to occur in remote locations late at night, he said, they’ve now moved into neighborhoods, busy intersections, and even on the Bay Bridge. He said he hopes that Alameda County’s ordinance will prove to be sufficiently effective at deterring sideshows so that other jurisdictions will follow their lead.

Multiple drivers spin Ford Mustangs in circles on the Bay Bridge westbound into San Francisco during a sideshow on Sunday, August 19, 2018. Officers arrested the driver of the white Mustang on suspicion of reckless driving and exhibition of speed before impounding his convertible for 30 days. (CHP San Francisco) 

His goal, he said, is to put an end to sideshows in the Bay Area entirely. But some see that approach as wrongheaded.

“No one is trying to say that it’s OK to do doughnuts in the neighborhood,” said Yakpasua Zazaboi, CEO of Sidewayz Cafe in Oakland and a former candidate for Oakland City Council. “But this is in our blood out here. This is one thing that’s been consistent for over 40 years, but it’s never been acknowledged as part of Oakland.”

In Zazaboi’s view, counties and cities should be working with sideshow organizers to bring sideshows into the fold as the next great American motorsport. He said the county could help sideshows find a legal, safe place to operate, and that the county’s ordinance is unlikely to be effective anyway.

Beyond cultural criticisms, the new ordinances have also raised serious questions from free speech advocates. Laws already exist that prohibit reckless driving and other crimes. This new ordinance, instead, targets spectators’ right to gather and document. That, says David Loy, the legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, is unconstitutional.

“It is a direct attack on clearly protected speech,” Loy said. “We’re not disputing that there are significant public safety issues and hazards here. But the way to deal with unlawful conduct is to punish that conduct, not to punish people for observing it.”
Loy said the county could face legal challenges from his organization and others if they choose to move forward with the ordinance. Alameda County’s Public Defender Brendon Woods has also spoken out against the ordinance.

Supervisor Miley said he is aware of the free speech concerns, but that he expected law enforcement would use discretion about who they would arrest.

“This ordinance is meant to be a deterrent, not something that totally infringes on people’s rights,” Miley said. “I expect law enforcement to discharge their duties constitutionally.”

For all the anger one can find directed toward sideshows throughout Bay Area media and online communities, there are some in the county who view the efforts to crack down on them as a misuse of time and resources.

Neena Joiner, an Oakland resident and small business owner, referred to sideshows as “young behavior” that a few violent outliers ruin for everyone else. She sees the safety concerns, but she also doesn’t believe they are anywhere near the most significant problem facing the region.

“It’s like ‘I can’t bring jobs, I can’t bring housing, I can’t do public transportation very well, but I can do this,’” Joiner said of Alameda County’s approach.

Zazaboi pointed out that it’s difficult to separate criminalizing sideshows from the long history of criminalizing Black culture. The sideshow at Alameda Point in late May resulted in dozens of citations and multiple towed cars.

Just a few weeks later, a corporate-sponsored electrified vehicle expo brought thousands to watch electric vehicles drift and perform stunts in the exact same location.

“Really what they’re saying is they don’t want us out there,” Zazaboi said.

Beyond their potential danger, the popularity of sideshows represents a youth culture disconnected from county ordinances and Board of Supervisors meetings. These ordinances, to Zazaboi, further sever that relationship. And if sideshows disappear entirely, he believes something would be lost.

“It would be a whole culture of people who were told that they have no place and no value in Oakland,” Zazaboi said. “To me that’s like murder right there, telling a whole generation, ‘We don’t care about you, we don’t value you, we’d rather you all leave.’”

About 200 people watch a large traveling sideshow at Antioch’s corner of Lone Tree Way and Golf Course Road early in the morning of April 18. A large sideshow attracted some 200 to the intersection of Lone Tree Way and Golf Course Road in Antioch early Sunday morning on April 18, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Sharron Scott)