HAYWARD, Calif. — The city of Hayward is taking a stand against sideshows, an East Bay phenomenon that has been a thorn in the side of local law enforcement. Following in the footsteps of Alameda County and the city of Fremont, Hayward is now contemplating measures that would make it illegal not only to participate in these events but also to watch them.
In a discussion held on Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Hayward City Council went over possible revisions to the city’s ordinance targeting illegal speed contests and sideshows. As written, the proposed ordinance would extend penalties to anyone caught within 200 feet of a sideshow. The proposed changes include graduated punishments, starting with a warning before progressively increasing to a misdemeanor charge punishable by a $1,000 fine and possible six-month jail term for repeat spectators.
Sideshows, characterized by blocking off the street to perform car stunts, have been a longstanding cultural practice in the East Bay, particularly gaining traction during the Hyphy Movement in the early 2000s. While Hayward enacted an ordinance against illegal speed contests in 2009, sideshows were not explicitly addressed.
The proposed amendments would add the word sideshow to the ordinance and regulate spectatorship. The city’s acting Police Chief Bryan Matthews explained that the proposed amendments are intended to curb the rise in sideshows across the region, some of which have escalated into violent incidents. Regional law enforcement is collaborating to crackdown on these events, and discouraging spectators could dissuade sideshows since having an audience is a primary motivator, Matthews said.
“These folks are not Hayward residents,” Matthews added. “We are seeing consistently people on the weekends coming from as far as Los Angeles and the Central Valley specifically to participate in this type of activity and to watch it.”
Councilmembers offered varying perspectives on the issue, with some largely supporting the revisions, while others raised concerns about their potential impact on Black and brown youth, who are the primary participants. Councilmember Dan Goldstein proposed incorporating a restorative justice element, allowing spectators to make amends or perform community service instead of paying fines.
Councilmembers Angela Andrews and George Syrop suggested making changes to the built environment, like installing roundabouts in sideshow hotspots, to discourage them from happening in the first place. Syrop encouraged finding a pathway toward having legally sanctioned sideshows instead of focusing exclusively on being punitive, a sentiment many councilmembers echoed.
“I just want us to be mindful of the ways in which we make certain cultural practices possible versus others,” Syrop said.
Mayor Mark Salinas took umbrage with Syrop’s comparison of sideshows to rodeos, where Syrop said local officials join residents in parking illegally to watch animal abuse, sanctioning one cultural practice while criminalizing another similar activity. Salinas said bull riders don’t engage in mass shootings, implying sideshow drivers do.
Salinas also objected to the notion that criminalizing sideshows would disproportionately impact Black and brown youth, exacerbating existing racial justice issues. He emphasized the negative impact of sideshows on Black and brown residents and suggested the drivers usually have drugs and guns with them.
“We have really taken this word equity and have really perverted it,” Salinas said.
Tennyson High School teacher Jesse Gunn was the sole member of the public to comment, expressing his strong opposition to the amendments. He compared the revisions to the failed attempts to regulate fireworks in the city. Increasing fines “did not do a single thing,” he said.
“Because it is generally from people who tend to be younger,” Gunn said, “I think we need better community engagement in our schools in order to basically just educate people on the dangers of these events and also invest in youth programs that give people alternatives to dangerous lifestyles like this.”
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors recently passed a similar ordinance, and 2nd District Supervisor Elisa Márquez, a former member of the Hayward City Council, was the sole dissenting vote.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.
Photo caption: A white car drifts on an asphalt road. These are the types of stunts that are illegal to perform in much of Alameda County and now the city of Hayward is considering making watching them illegal, too. (Jaxon Matthew Willis – Pexels.com)