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How the City is Preventing Sideshows and Plans to Step Up Enforcement

At their May 7 meeting, City Council received an update on the City’s approach to preventing and enforcing unpermitted sideshow events and provided direction to hold a public hearing to consider the purchase and use of drones for sideshows and other critical incident response and enforcement.

Alameda Point - a blue car in the middle of a large crowd at the unofficial car show near hangers at Alameda Point
Sideshow driver performs on Monarch Street on Sunday, January 28, with an overhead drone (not the City’s) and bystanders recording the action. Photo Richard Bangert.

In other decisions, Council appointed new members to the Mayor’s Economic Development Advisory Council, received the Alameda Fire Department’s (AFD) community risk assessment and deployment analysis, accepted the Social Service Human Relations Board work plan, and voted to adopt a new Floodplain Management chapter in the Municipal Code.

Sideshows: Background

Alameda Point attracts sideshows, unsanctioned car show events that often include hundreds of vehicles and large crowds of spectators. Events over the last six months have drawn hundreds of people. These sideshows result in noise, trash, traffic, air pollution, property damage, and wildlife concerns. They adversely impact adjacent businesses as well as city services and finances by redirecting resources to intervene. Reckless driving creates a significant risk of harm to drivers and spectators, and intervening with large crowds presents a risk to first responders.



When these events occurred several years ago along the western edge of the Seaplane Lagoon, the City made physical design changes, eliminating sideshows in that area. In the last six months, sideshows have again started in the parking lots and streets near the USS Hornet Museum and at the intersection of Monarch Street and West Tower Avenue. City staff are also concerned about West Midway Avenue between Monarch and Lexington Streets, given its broad width and reports of reckless driving.

Alameda Post - at Alameda Point, cyclists steer around a large gate designed to keep out cars
Cyclists pass through an opening in a padlocked rolling gate installed to deter sideshow activity on the wharf near USS Hornet Museum. Photo Richard Bangert.

Prevention and enforcement

City Manager Jennifer Ott reported that an interdepartmental team with representatives from her office, Public Works, Base Reuse and Economic Development, and the Alameda Police Department (APD) is implementing a multi-faceted response, including modifying the Alameda Point environment to reduce large open areas and strategically deploying APD resources.

Prevention measures include:

  • Fences and gates: The City has installed lockable gates and bollards with chains on portions of West Hornet Avenue and Ferry Point, as well as new fences to restrict access to the parking lot from Ferry Point and West Ticonderoga Avenue.
  • Temporary asphalt curbs: Before constructing the final Alameda Point roadways, Public Works plans a temporary asphalt curb at critical locations to narrow and define travel lanes and reduce street intersection sizes on West Tower Avenue, West Midway Avenue, and Monarch Street.
  • Pre-event intelligence: APD is conducting intelligence efforts to discover planned events. They contact the promoters, if possible, and try to dissuade them, calling on additional resources, such as the California Highway Patrol (CHP), to discourage attendance should the organizers choose to proceed.

When APD becomes aware of a planned event, they assign an enforcement detail to partner with local agencies. Enforcement includes citations for reckless driving along with vehicle seizures. Undercover officers monitor the event, gathering evidence to assist later enforcement, such as the impounding of vehicles. APD has sometimes identified promoters and billed them for the cost of public safety resources.

If APD becomes aware of an event after it starts, on-duty personnel may be pulled from their primary duties to engage in enforcement. However, due to the high risks associated with crowd management, APD is relegated to peripheral enforcement. While this mitigates escalating circumstances, the ability to break up a sideshow is limited.

Drones

Ott requested Council direction to return with a public hearing and an ordinance authorizing drones to monitor sideshows and other critical incidents, allowing APD to collect information for enforcement without jeopardizing officer safety.

Alternatives include helicopters and other aircraft, which are costly and slow to deploy. Drones provide many of the same benefits at less cost and are quick to deploy. In addition, drones uniquely allow two-way voice and visual communication without requiring an officer to be physically present.

In addition to surveilling sideshows, APD could use drones for public safety and life preservation missions such as barricaded suspects, hostage situations, active shooters, apprehension of armed and dangerous fleeing suspects, high-risk search warrants, and when there is probable cause to believe that a drone will record evidence of a felony.

APD consulted with community stakeholders in exploring the use of drones, including Secure Justice, a civilian oversight organization, Alameda Point and Harbor Bay businesses, and through four community meetings. APD proposes to adopt a use policy addressing privacy concerns consistent with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) best practices.

Alameda Post - an aerial map of Alameda Point with circled areas indicating where sideshows happen and a promotional photo of a drone.
Left: Sideshow locations at Alameda Point. Image presented at City Council meeting May 7, 2024, Agenda #7-D, Staff Presentation. Right: Drone specification image presented to the City Council while they consider the addition of drone power to sideshow prevention and enforcement. Image presented at City Council meeting May 7, 2024, Agenda #7-D, Exhibit 3.

Public comment

Public comment mostly favored APD using drone technology. One speaker who was an emergency responder during the Loma Prieta earthquake noted how helpful drones would be during a disaster by providing an aerial view. Shirley noted drones are commonly used nowadays and supported APD’s use “to deter and de-escalate unsafe situations.”

Tod Hickman, winemaker at Building 43 Winery, said sideshows had caused his business to suffer losses, as when a recent sideshow caused him to shut down his winery for an entire Saturday. Kelly Lux, an Alameda Chamber and Economic Alliance Board Member noted that businesses regularly contact the Chamber about sideshow concerns and that sideshows don’t happen just at Alameda Point. She said they also happen at Harbor Bay Business Park after hours.

By contrast, Marilyn said she worried that drones would increase violence against black and brown people. Teresa said she wanted the City to focus on building community rather than using intimidation tactics and questioned what would happen to all the data collected. Jennifer expressed concern about increasing surveillance of what she considered “misdemeanor behavior.”

Kimberly countered that the CHP Commissioner called sideshows potential tragedies in the making and recalled a 19-year-old who suffered traumatic brain injuries last summer due to a chaotic sideshow. She argued that drones are a minimally invasive way to deal with escalating crime and a lot less intimidating than facing a police officer in person.

Next steps

Council generally expressed support while noting technical concerns, such as clarifying how drone use will be logged and tracked as well as ensuring that subjects are not targeted based on characteristics such as ethnicity. Council directed staff to return at a future meeting with a public hearing to consider purchasing and using drones for sideshows and other critical incident response and enforcement.

Other decisions

In other business, Council:

  • Appointed Mark Cuyler, Chief Operating Officer of Saildrone, Joe Ernst, Principal of srmErnst Development Partners, Matt Kreutz, CEO of Firebrand Artisan Breads, Becca Perata, Founder of Vox Populi LLC, and Sharine Thenard, a pediatric dentist, as members of the Mayor’s Economic Development Advisory Panel
  • Received the final report and recommendations from the Alameda Fire Department (AFD) Community Risk Assessment and Standards of Cover and Deployment Analysis (link downloads the study). Risk assessment findings included noting that Alameda faces challenges to mutual aid access from other fire agencies and threats related to the bridges and tunnels. There is a high risk of earthquakes, but the risks associated with a tsunami are low. The Standards of Cover and Deployment Analysis, an evaluation of how AFD performs and is deployed, noted that nearly 84% of survey respondents were satisfied with AFD’s services. The analysis provided recommendations, such as replacing Station 5, refurbishing or replacing Station 2, and continuing to update the Alameda Point water system.
  • Accepted the Social Service Human Relations Board (SSHRB) Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2024-25 (link downloads the work plan.) SSHRB’s goals are to report on, develop, and improve services for people experiencing homelessness, foster human relations that create a welcoming city for all residents, and address the causes and effects of domestic violence
  • Introduced an ordinance (link downloads ordinance) amending the Alameda Municipal Code by repealing the chapter on Floodplain Management and adopting a new Floodplain Management chapter to implement the City’s General Plan and the Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Plan and make other technical amendments.

Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.

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