Sideshows are out of control in Richmond. Who’s to blame?

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Sideshows are out of control in Richmond, who’s to blame.
Photo from a sideshow over the weekend posted to Richmond Mayor Tom Butt's e-forum newsletter.

At least two massive sideshows over the weekend have neighbors fuming over the lack of action by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA)-controlled City Council to prevent the activity.

One of the sideshows occurred at Solano and San Pablo avenues while the other took place at Central Avenue near I-580, prompting neighbor complaints over the activities’ impact on traffic, noise and safety, according to Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who reported the incidents on his e-forum newsletter. The sideshows sparked another round of outrage on social media from residents asking why city leaders are doing little to address the issue despite their frequent complaints.

“If you don’t like car shows you only have the RPA (Richmond Progressive Alliance) councilmembers (McLaughlin, Jimenez, Martinez and Willis) plus Johnson, to blame,” a resident stated on NextDoor. “They do not support law enforcement of these events. They are the ones who defunded the police budget by 3million.”

When the problem of rampant sideshows made it on the Richmond City Council agenda last fall, the RPD, which has seen its staff of police officers slashed by 26 percent since the RPA members began its march toward majority control of City Council in 2015, proposed a number of alternative solutions including procuring license plate reader technology to hold drivers accountable, along with hiring a civilian operator to monitor the city’s Closed Circuit TV cameras which are currently unmanned. The RPD also proposed roadway engineering solutions, such as temporary or permanent roundabouts at hotspots for such activity, or Botts Dots and raised circular markers that work to deter reckless driving.

Extra measures are necessary due in part to the lack of enough officers patrolling the city, particularly on the weekends, stated Richmond Acting police chief Louie Tirona. At the time, Chief Tirona reported that the city was being patrolled by one lieutenant, one or two sergeants, and nine officers who cover 52 square miles and handle an average of nearly 300 calls daily.

“That’s the backdrop we face when these sideshows erupt,” he added.

The understaffed RPD has since pulled officers from its investigative team in order to amplify its patrol team, but the problem persists. While Mayor Butt and Councilmember Nat Bates have supported stricter enforcement on sideshow activity and reckless driving in general, the four RPA members who hold a majority on City Council voted in favor of pursuing engineering solutions rather than punitive solutions. To date, however, no solutions have been enacted.

“The Richmond Progressive Alliance, in their anti-police crusade, is so obsessed with not arresting anyone, they will tolerate almost any type of lawlessness, including sideshows,” Mayor Butt said.

Last summer, Eduardo Martinez, the RPA member seeking to become the city’s next mayor, discussed possibly legalizing sideshows, a “concept that has apparently not advanced,” according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. In October, Martinez suggested creating an area of the city where sideshows can legally occur.

Several months have passed, however, and complaints by neighbors remain unaddressed.

Last fall, the Standard cited police data showing that the RPD had responded to 864 calls regarding reckless driving from January 2021 through October 2021. Of those incidents, 82 fell under the definition of sideshow, which involves two or more persons blocking or impeding traffic for the purpose of performing motor vehicle stunts for spectators. Another 296 calls were for single cars spinning donuts. Hilltop and Marina Bay were among the top locations for sideshow activity, police said.