Supervisors Review Police, Transportation Agency’s Response to Illegal Sideshows

Screen capture by Jerold Chinn

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District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí gave the San Francisco Police Department a “B” grade for its effort to crackdown and prevent stunt driving events that have been taking place in specific neighborhoods in the city.

Supervisors at the board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee heard an update from SFPD and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on enforcement and measures put in place to prevent car sideshows. 

Last year, the board approved legislation, authored by Safaí, that allows police to seize, tow and impound vehicles of individuals who participated and who helped facilitate the events. at a minimum of two weeks. Repeat violators could see their vehicle impounded for a month.

At many of the events captured on social media, dozens of vehicles, participants and spectators, show up to close an intersection so that drivers can perform what city officials call dangerous maneuvers with their vehicles, such as figure eights and donuts in the middle of the intersection. 

Some of the events have turned deadly, including one event last year in Safaí’s district where a person was shot and killed while two others were injured.

Data from the law enforcement officials showed that there have been a total of 70 car sideshow events from October 2020 through the end of June 2021. November of last year saw the highest number of events with 18. 

Acting Deputy Chief of Special Operations Bureau Daniel Perea said a total of 24 vehicles were seized at stunt driving events and seven vehicles were obtained through seizure orders that police obtained. Police have seized vehicles from cities like Oakland and Vallejo.

Safaí said of his grading of the Police Department that there still needed to be better coordination with the SFMTA on towing and that the majority of the tows only came from two of the 70 events. He did note that it appeared police are gaining momentum as events have leveled off from April to June of this year with an average of seven events.

“I know that tows are not the only way that we’re going to abate this, but you take someone’s car for two weeks and then they come and get thousands of dollars worth of fines, they’re going to think about this,” Safaí said.

Perea said at one incident, officers waited for 45 minutes for tow trucks to arrive.

SFMTA Director of Streets Tom Maguire said waiting for tow trucks to arrive for 45 minutes was not the agency’s standard and that the tow company, AutoReturn, plans to add more contractors for overnight tows as the city comes out of COVID-19.

SFPD has also issued 67 citations and 75 notices to owners of vehicles involved in stunt driving incidents. Notices by the department, though, only warn vehicle owners of the consequences if they are caught at one of these events. Perea noted that the state has a carve out for innocent vehicle owners who may have not been at the event, but the child of the vehicle owner, for example, may have taken the vehicle to the event.

To coincide with the Safaí’s legislation, SFPD Chief Bill Scott created the Stunt Driving Response Unit that includes officers from the Traffic Company, district stations and the Special Operations Bureau, to engage in a coordinated response to known locations of stunt driving as well preventing them from happening.

“When we become aware that something is coming our way, or something might be occurring, we engage in high visibility uniformed patrol to these locations to prevent them from even happening to begin with,” Perea said.

One of the known intersections for stunt driving events to occur in District 11 is Alemany Boulevard and Geneva Avenue along with Mission Street and Persia Avenue. 

The SFMTA is also working on preventable measures on the street to make it harder for drivers to do the stunts, including the possibility of installing traffic circles in wider streets, adding humps and installing raised markers, known as botts’ dots.

City Traffic Engineer Ricardo Olea said the transit agency is  looking at the intersection of Alemany Boulevard and Geneva Avenue to see what can be installed. Olea said it will most likely be a combination of ceramic dots. Olea added that the dots could possibly interfere with the spinning of the vehicle’s wheels.

At Mission Street and Persia Avenue, Olea said the SFMTA already installed ceramic dots in the center of the intersection, but in a recent inspection of the intersection, the dots were missing and crews had to replace them.

The dots have durability issues. Attached to the pavement with an epoxy, they become loose in heavy traffic and can actually be taken off by individuals. Staff will continue to monitor the dots at the intersection.

Safaí is looking at legislation in San Jose that fines and jails individuals who promote car sideshow events on social media.

“I think that’s an important area for us to investigate further and we will work with the chief and his team again on that aspect,” Safaí said.