California cities have tried arresting drivers and fining spectators in an effort to crack down on illegal street takeovers, and now the city of Santa Rosa is taking a novel approach to curb the problem: Sue organizers for polluting waterways.
Organizers of multiple street takeovers caused a public nuisance, broke numerous traffic laws and violated the state’s Fish and Game Code by polluting public waterways with shredded rubber from car tires that eventually made its way into storm drains, city attorneys allege in a recent complaint filed against 13 people.
The defendants “organized and promoted the sideshows for the purpose of bringing together dozens of individuals to use motor vehicles unlawfully by engaging in exhibitions of speed and reckless driving, including doughnuts, burnouts, and spinning tires,” according to the suit filed July 7.
The lawsuit is the first known instance in California in which public officials have employed the state’s Fish and Game Code to stop street takeovers.
Santa Rosa city and police officials declined to comment on the suit, citing ongoing litigation. In a recent statement, however, Police Chief John Cregan said the department had worked with Sonoma County officials and neighboring law enforcement agencies to address the growing problem to stop the takeovers, also known as sideshows, before they got underway.
The police department also “studied city ordinances around the state” and have impounded more than 100 vehicles involved in street takeovers, officials said.
Now the city has also sued some of the organizers of the events. City officials allege that the 13 men named in the lawsuit are part of a group called “ROSABARZ,” which organized at least four sideshows on July 9 and 10, 2022.
The suit names Jorge Luis Calderon Caballero, Daniel Felix Nunez Serna, Roberto Carrillo, Emiliano Bautista Rodriguez, Manuel Andres Garfia, George Michael Patino Flores, Alexys Aguirre-Serrano, Joel Vasquez Cortez, Jersain Lezama Meza, Jesus Calderon Avalos, Neri Alberto Orea-Vasquez, Richard Murillo Robles and Rodrigo Lopez-Tapia.
None of the defendants appeared to have retained attorneys, according to court records.
Many of the social media accounts tied to some of the defendants and listed in court records appeared to have been deleted or removed by Friday. Those that remained did not respond to a request for comment.
The suit filed by the city shows that the street takeovers cited in the records operated much like other events across the state, with social media messages being sent out late at night with the time and location for spectators to show up.
The defendants blocked public streets and intersections to keep police from reaching the scene, keeping motorists and other emergency vehicles from reaching the scene.
Organizers used social media, among other means, to get the word out on the street takeover, according to the suit.
The city also accuses organizers and spectators of violent behavior, including throwing bottles at police officers and cars.
The July 2022 sideshows, city officials claim, were organized as a birthday celebration for one of the group’s members. Court documents also show officials obtained texts and social media messages, allegedly showing how organizers of the group reached out to people to show up for the takeover, sending out the time and location of the event.
Members also sent out false information to social media accounts they suspected were members of law enforcement trying to stop the events.
In the lawsuit, city officials claim that the vehicles that were burning tires and doing doughnuts on the city intersections left behind pieces of tires on the road, which eventually washed down storm drains and into waterways.
City officials allege that not only did the street takeovers cause a public nuisance, but violated the vehicle code in illegal exhibitions of speed, reckless driving and willful misconduct, and violated the Fish and Game code by polluting waterways by leaving behind pieces of tires, which were eventually washed off in storm drains and into waterways.
Cities across the state have sought different ways to stop the street takeovers. Officials deployed more deputies in Compton during the weekend as street takeovers prompted some to call the city the “mecca of street takeovers.” In Alameda County, officials proposed a new law that would fine spectators $1,000 and raise the possibility of three months in county jail.
Santa Rosa is seeking fines of $25,000 per violation from each defendant, as well as punitive damages.