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Santa Rosa releases survey, hosts listening sessions to hear community concerns about sideshows

The city of Santa Rosa is surveying public opinion on sideshows as part of an effort to respond to the illegal car stunt demonstrations increasingly taking over local intersections and vacant lots.

Released last week, the survey follows a proposal made last month by community leaders who suggested hosting a city-sanctioned sideshow event, where people could participate in a safe and controlled setting.

It is intended to give members of the community an opportunity to formally share their concerns and offer potential solutions, said Magali Telles, Santa Rosa’s community engagement director.

"We want to be able to make sure that we are properly capturing the different conversations happening in the community,“ she said.

Originally a byproduct of East Oakland hip-hop culture, sideshows in Santa Rosa are a relatively new concern for local law enforcement. Their occurrences have become more frequent over the past three years.

Residents have complained about the danger and damage sideshows cause, with cars whipping around and burning out. And, police have said their ability to crack down on them is limited, as they often pop up unexpectedly and attract hundreds of spectators.

"They are illegal, but are growing in popularity among youth, not only in Santa Rosa but throughout the Bay Area and other communities around California,“ according to the the city’s web page on sideshows, which introduces the survey.

The area of Sebastopol Road and West Avenue in Roseland has recently become a popular spot for the stunt shows. On Sept. 16, hundreds of people gathered at the intersection to watch cars do doughnuts in the midst of Mexican Independence Day celebrations. When officers tried to disperse the crowd, police said spectators threw bottles and rocks at their cars. Officers broke up the event around 2 a.m.

The city’s online survey includes five questions about how area families have been impacted by sideshows, what people’s concerns are about them and how they’d like the city to respond.

Telles said the survey will be available through the end of the month in hopes that it will attract at least 300 respondents, which is considered a representative sample of the city overall.

As of Wednesday evening, it had received 162 responses.

Alongside the survey, Telles’ team is also hosting listening sessions in Spanish and English to hear from community members directly and walk them through the survey in person.

While “work with community partners to find a safe way to sanction sideshows” is one of five solutions offered by the survey, Telles did not expect that option would be popular.

"Our office is open to the feedback the community wants to provide,“ she said. ”In terms of sanctioned sideshows, I don’t think the city would be prepared to support anything like that any time soon.“

Jose Quiroz, who has been collaborating with Santa Rosa City Councilmember Eddie Alvarez on proposing a sanctioned sideshow event, agreed it was unlikely the city would readily adopt that solution.

“Probably our idea is not going to be that popular among people who are going to participate in the survey,” said Quiroz, a member of the Latin Rollers Car Club and the Sonoma County LowRider Council.

He hoped that the survey would reach those community members with the most at stake in the conversation — the young people who are behind the wheel in a sideshow.

Telles said that speaking to young people was a priority of the Community Engagement Division in their efforts to respond to sideshows. While a handful of respondents, so far, have been people between the ages of 18 to 26, she hoped that the listening sessions would bring more teens to the table.

“Sideshows are predominantly young people participating,” Telles said. “We know that is because of the lack of social activities for young people.”

One such listening session happened last Wednesday in Roseland, with another to be held entirely in Spanish over Zoom at 6 p.m. Thursday.

To access the survey, visit: https://letsconnectsr.com/sideshows-in-santa-rosa?tool=survey_tool#tool_tab.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety 

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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