Nearly two years after the Richmond city council voted to mitigate the problem of sideshows and speeding through a program of public education and traffic calming strategies, the problems still persist, much to the consternation of residents.
Just after 3 pm last Friday afternoon, police cleared traffic and parked cars along 23rd Street, installing barricades in preparation for the weekend's Cinco de Mayo Festival. It didn't take long before stunt drivers arrived, taking advantage of the cleared street, allowing for a sideshow that reportedly "went for hours," according to social media posts from frustrated residents.
According to Richmond police dispatch records, two more sideshows also occurred Friday night, one on 15th Street and another on 1st Street.
In the last few weeks, there have been several more sideshows, including one at Hilltop on April 22, with at least twenty cars spinning in front of a crowd in the IHOP parking lot.
These are not isolated events. Sideshows and donut-doers are typical and regularly occur in various locations throughout the city.
Sideshows are illegal in California.
California law defines a sideshow as an event involving at least two vehicles that block traffic with the intention of performing stunts, speed contests, or reckless driving for an audience. In the fall of 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill increasing the penalty for participating in sideshows.
Some argue that a car or two spinning at an intersection doesn't qualify as a sideshow, but rather just "some people just doing donuts."
In California, "doing donuts" is considered reckless driving, and is also illegal.
Driving through the city of Richmond, it's clear that sideshows and donuts are a frequent occurrence. Black tire marks mar the streets and can be found in intersections and parking lots alike. Often the areas that host such shows are filled with garbage and debris from spectators who leave their food and drink containers behind.
Also left in the wake of sideshows are the frazzled nerves of neighbors whose sleep has been disrupted by the sound of squealing tires, fireworks, and even gunfire.
Richmond is not the only East Bay city with sideshow problems.
In the wake of a weekend of sideshows that included at least 250 vehicles, individuals with lasers, fireworks, and a vehicle fire, Oakland is now considering a sideshow ordinance.
Two years ago, the growing problem of sideshows went before the Richmond city council, which after an evening of lively debate, decided to deal with sideshows through public education programs that outline the ills of stunt driving, and by way of traffic calming measures such as speed humps, roundabouts or Botts dots rather than issuing citations or creating an ordinance.
In the time since this decision was made, speed humps and bumps have popped up around the city on key streets such as Roosevelt, Esmond, and Garvin Avenues, all of which connect 23rd Street with San Pablo Avenue and attract a fair amount of traffic.
Neighbors give mixed reviews about the bump's presence and effectiveness.
Long-time Richmond resident Ellen Seskin feels placement of speed bumps could improve their effectiveness.
"It might make sense then to put the speed bumps in the intersections where the side shows are happening. I really think that the speed bumps just shuffle the traffic, though - there are too many alternate routes without them that people can take," Seskin said.
Another resident who wished not to be identified said she does not think the speed bumps are effective.
"There is still speeding on Garvin and Esmond. Some drivers fly right over the humps, and others just go around them."
Botts dots, another engineering solution, are found less frequently around the city, and their use came into question after a video emerged of a car spinning easily atop newly installed dots in San Leandro last February.
Terri Hinte has lived in the North and East neighborhood of Richmond for more than twenty years and is well aware of the problems with speeding and sideshows, but wonders if Botts dots are the best solution.
"Whenever Gayle [councilmember McLaughlin] has gone into one of her Botts dots reveries, I never hear her talking about cost-effectiveness. What percentage of city streets do you have to cover in order to achieve 'victory'? What will it cost? Is there maintenance involved? What is the plan, exactly, and when will it be implemented? This discussion always strikes me as a deflection to avoid talking about bad driving and holding bad drivers accountable for their dangerous behavior," Hinte said.
Councilmember Soheila Bana said Richmond Police Department is looking into the installation of cameras in areas where crime is a problem.
Bana thinks the cameras may potentially help with sideshows as well as illegal dumping.
"We can see after six months what the cameras show and then the council can revisit the discussion about possible engineering solutions," Bana said.