Sideshow Damage

Alameda County — Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a new law to crack down on illegal street racing and "sideshows," a problem that has recently emerged on rural roads near Livermore.

The law would allow judges to suspend violators’ driver's licenses for up to six months in addition to whatever other penalties they receive. The law, authored by Kern County Assemblymember Vince Fong, won't take effect until July 1, 2025.

"Street racing and sideshows have taken too many lives," Fong said in a tweet after Newsom signed his bill, AB3, into law on Oct. 7.

Sideshows are gatherings of sometimes dozens or hundreds of motorists who congregate to watch vehicle stunts like "doughnuts" in open intersections, lots or roads.

Currently, motorists convicted of racing or aiding those racing can be jailed for up to 90 days. The new law would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend or restrict a driver’s license if a judge ordered it.

Although it will be some time before the law takes effect, the legislation could help Tri-Valley law enforcement battle a problem that recently brewed on Del Valle, Mines and other rural roads that proved to be popular and remote for racing and sideshows.

Sgt. Marc Petrini, who heads the Alameda County Sheriff's Office's Tri-Valley substation, said events are announced and promoted on social media.

In late June, about 100 cars gathered off Del Valle Road, resulting in fears among residents that participants partying, racing and shooting off fireworks could trigger a wildfire or cause traffic accidents.

As July 4 approached, Sheriff’s deputies increased their presence in the area and issued tickets to drivers. Plastic guard rails were placed in roadways to make it impossible for motorists to perform stunts.

Petrini and other deputies working overtime stopped cars, finding one driver they believed was a “spotter” in search of an area to hold a sideshow. Petrini said he and a partner followed the driver as he drove around rural roads. They pulled him over and suspected they prevented him from inviting other drivers into the area for a sideshow.

“While we were contacting this gentleman, text messages were coming into him,” Petrini said. “He was a popular fellow.”

Other deputies also patrolled the roads, stopping cars suspected of being spotters and shooing them away.

“That area — there is so much dry grass up there. Even without fireworks, you get a good wreck up there, it eats up the whole hillside,” Petrini said. “If there is a fire up there, hopefully the people can get out. It could be devastating and cost people their lives.”

Although they would like to continue patrols, the Tri-Valley station covers 450-square-miles, keeping its small crew busy. No increases in staffing are likely and constant patrols are difficult.

Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said just four deputies might be on duty on any given night, responding to calls for help as well as conducting patrols. The California Highway Patrol investigates crashes in the same areas, but that agency’s officers also handle the region’s freeways and are extremely busy.

During a recent rural roads meeting with County Supervisor David Haubert, residents talked about what more can be done to prevent sideshows from coming into their neighborhoods. Several residents in the area have since reported an improvement since July.

Haubert was out of town this week and unavailable for an interview. His spokesman, Shawn Wilson, said “in a perfect world,” Haubert would like a combination of more deputies and technology to battle the problem.

“He did make reference to adding license plate readers and other technology to help stop sideshows and racing from occurring on our rural roads,” Wilson said. “We will be working with our Public Works agency to find out which technology makes sense and the cost of these technologies.”

In August, Livermore High School student Hunter Diemert was killed and five of his classmates were hurt when a pickup truck they were riding in crashed 200 feet down an embankment in the rural Livermore area.

Although the final results of the CHP investigation have not been released, sheriff’s officials said the crash did not appear to be related to sideshows or racing. It was a terrible crash possibly involving speeding and inexperience.

But the tragedy increased law enforcement’s desire to do more on the rural roads, Kelly said.

“We know that kids like to go out to the rural areas out toward Del Valle, out toward Mines,” Kelly said. “We can’t be everywhere all at once. It is absolutely a priority to protect those areas every day and every night.”