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Council Moves to Take Away Racers' Car Keys

A measure allowing the confiscation of vehicles used in illegal contests is passed unanimously.

June 07, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

The cars are fast; the council's furious.

An ordinance approved unanimously Friday by the Los Angeles City Council would allow the city to permanently confiscate cars used in street racing, a measure that officials say is necessary to combat illegal speed contests that happen nightly in the San Fernando Valley and other parts of the city.

A network of street racers regularly assembles on the broad avenues that crisscross the Valley, piercing the night quiet with screeches and squeals, Los Angeles police said. Often, people are hurt or killed.

"This continues, week after week, month after month," said Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau. "The enforcement, and we've tried everything, has not stopped the street racing and the deaths on the streets of the San Fernando Valley."

The forfeiture law, which still must be signed by Mayor James K. Hahn, would give police "the supreme tool" to crack down on street racing, Bergmann said.

Under the law, a person who races his car in front of spectators or against other vehicles would have to forfeit it to the city. The city would then sell the vehicles and the money would go to the general fund.

Deputy City Atty. Asha Greenberg said the cars of street racers would be immediately confiscated. Offenders would be given a receipt for the car, paperwork explaining the ordinance and a claim form to fill out if they believe their car was unjustly impounded. Cars that had been reported stolen would not be subject to forfeiture, she said.

Mayoral spokeswoman Julie Wong said Hahn has not yet taken a position on the ordinance. If the mayor signs it, it would go into effect within 30 days.

The council approved the measure amid a flurry of publicity for the new street racing movie "2 Fast 2 Furious," which opened Friday.

On Friday morning, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who proposed the forfeiture law, showcased a new public service announcement featuring an actor from the film warning people not to imitate the action in the movie.

"Illegal street racing terrorizes our neighborhoods and kills children, and we must stop this kind of activity," Greuel said during Friday's council meeting.

Under current law, officials can impound the cars used in street racing, as well as the vehicles of spectators. But owners can get them back after paying fines of $300 or more.

Most of the vehicles used in the speed contests have been illegally altered to race faster, police said. The new measure would get them off the street altogether.

"Once they race, they're ours," Bergmann said.

Officials said they believe that the new law would chase the street racers out of Los Angeles.

"The deterrent effect will be as effective as the prosecution itself," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

Porter Ranch resident Candido Marez said the law is long overdue.

Last week, Marez said he saw a street-racing contest along Reseda Boulevard result in a crash, with one car spinning out of control and into a wall. Two teenagers spilled out, injured, he said. As he rushed to assist them, he noticed that spectators were laughing.

Marez said he was disgusted. "What's the difference between putting a gun in someone's hand and a car if they don't know how to handle it?" he asked.

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