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THE VALLEY

Street Race Spectators Face Jail

October 10, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cracking down on illegal street racing in the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles City Council decided Wednesday to punish spectators with harsh fines and possible jail time.

The council also ordered a new law to be drafted that would allow authorities to permanently confiscate any vehicle used in a street race.

"This is a long-standing problem. It has reached crisis proportions," Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said after the 14-0 vote to impose up to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail on any spectator at an illegal speed contest.

Council members believe if racers can't show off in front of their friends, the sport's attraction will evaporate. "You're not going to have the street racing if you don't have the spectators," Councilman Dennis Zine said.

Law enforcement officials report the sport has spawned a large gambling operation in which spectators use the Internet to bet on race outcomes.

Greuel said hundreds of races take place in her district every week on Glenoaks Boulevard between Peoria and Sheldon streets in Sun Valley.

Her motion to impose stiff penalties on spectators also directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance allowing the confiscation and forfeiture of any vehicle used in an illegal speed contest.

Zine, a former Los Angeles police officer, said the drag-race problem has plagued the Valley for years, popping up in new locales when police raid illicit race strips.

In August, dozens of law enforcement officers arrested more than 60 people, cited 98 spectators and impounded 92 vehicles in an overnight sweep on Glenoaks Boulevard. The next day, all but three of the autos were back on the street, Greuel said.

Under a previous ordinance, watching an illegal race was an infraction punishable by a $250 fine but no jail time. The new ordinance raises the crime to a misdemeanor.

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