Watching an illegal street race could soon land residents in trouble with the law in Buena Park.

City council members on Tuesday unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance prohibiting people from participating in and watching street races.

Councilman Connor Traut called the action “incredibly necessary” and said it was a significant issue in the district he represents, especially along Orangethorpe Avenue, La Palma Avenue and Crescent Avenue – streets that have long stretches of road without stop lights.

“We have pedestrian crosswalks where young children are crossing,” he said. “This is, I think, a significant public safety issue and I believe we’re doing everything we can to address it.”

The consequences for watching the impromptu street races could result in a misdemeanor or infraction. A misdemeanor penalty in California can result in up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

The full ordinance is attached to last Tuesday’s agenda and can be found here.

Buena Park is not the first city to adopt such an ordinance.

Their ordinance is modeled after a similar action taken by council members in the neighboring City of Anaheim in January 2021.

Back then, Anaheim City Council members also voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance prohibiting watching or participating in a street race.

“It’s becoming an increasingly popular thing to do in Anaheim and very, very dangerous for everybody involved,” said Anaheim Councilman Jose Diaz at a meeting held on Jan. 26, 2021.

Diaz represents West Anaheim’s District 1 – an area where people driving modified cars can be routinely heard revving their engines and burning rubber through the streets at night.

His colleagues concurred.

Councilman Jose Moreno also agreed the issue needs to be addressed, but questioned if the Anaheim Police Department has explored alternatives for cracking down on street racing other than targeting spectators.

“Too often we’ve seen so many young people get into a pipeline when we criminalize what is often stupidly innocent mistakes of just wanting to go have fun as a young person. Many of us have done that,” he said at the same meeting. 

“I just want to make sure that we’re taking every effort to not create a tool of criminalizing our youth but really use it as a tool to educate.”

Anaheim officials adopted the ordinance after the city experienced a stark rise in street racing, according to police and numerous residents who’ve complained about the issue during public comment.

In 2020, Anaheim police received over 1500 calls about street racing – a 91% increase as compared to 2019 and 2018, Chief Jorge Cisneros told councilmembers in January 2021.

It’s unclear what effects the ordinance has had so far.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Jacob Gallacher didn’t have information readily available on any potential drop in street racing calls on Wednesday. 

Anaheim isn’t the only place that saw more racing in their streets.

According to Buena Park’s ordinance, California Highway Patrol reported responding to more 25,000 calls about illegal street racing in 2020 – a 16% increase from 2019.

Buena Park’s City Attorney Christopher Cardinale also noted an increase in street racing in the city at last Tuesday’s meeting, pointing to movie franchises that he says have popularized such exhibitions in recent years.

“Unfortunately, the city has been host to a number of these events over the last several months. Buena Park officers have had to respond to these incidents and at times have faced threatening circumstances and damage to their vehicles as pedestrians retaliate and try to block access,” he said.

While there are laws in the books that punish drivers for racing and driving recklessly, Cardinale said they don’t punish spectators who he said help fuel these events.

“Drivers and spectators have been known to work together through social media campaigns to organize and plan intersection takeovers, blockades, car meets, and they also often frequently block both pedestrians and vehicular traffic as well as law enforcement that’s trying to respond to these dangerous events,” he said.

The ordinance is slated to go into effect in about a month.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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