A measure recently approved by a Kent City Council committee shows that illegal street racing continues to spread across town.
The council’s Committee of the Whole approved an amendment to the city’s no racing zones ordinance to add two new areas:
That’s in addition to the 17 designated no racing zones already under city code.
Victoria Robben, assistant city attorney, explained to the council why staff and Kent Police want to add East Valley Highway and South 180th Street, near the Kent and Renton city borders, to the list.
“Since September 2022 it became problem,” Robben said. “Prior to that they used it as a meet-up area for street racers and then moved on to other areas to race. Now crowds of 100 to 200 people meet up in that area and take over the roadways. Just in the last six months there’s been at least four shootings in that area.”
Five men were shot and injured during a May 21 shooting at the intersection.
While racers for decades have used streets or parking lots in the Kent Valley, racing also has spread to the East Hill, including the Marketplace at Lake Meridian, at SE Kent-Kangley Road and 132nd Avenue SE, that features Trader Joe’s and other stores. Racers show up late at night, usually on weekends, after the businesses have closed.
“They are drawn to gather at the large parking lot at Lake Meridian Marketplace that allows for drifting of vehicles,” Robben said. “We’ve had complaints from residents in that area.”
Drifting is when drivers spin their vehicles in a circle at high speeds, usually leaving skid marks on the pavement. Drivers perform drifting at intersections as well as in large parking lots.
According to city documents, when a person is charged with a crime related to illegal street racing, a standard condition of their release is to abide by a SOAR (Stay Out of Areas of Racing) order. SOAR orders list all designated no racing zones within the city. Violation of a SOAR order will subject a defendant to immediate arrest and constitutes a separate crime, which is a gross misdemeanor.
The council’s approval of the ordinance will add both of these areas to the no racing zones, which includes adjacent parking lots.
“Neither of the two areas mentioned has been designated as a no racing zone, which means a person restricted by a SOAR order could go to either location without being in violation of the order,” according to city documents. “Amending the code to add the two new areas identified by Kent Police as problematic areas is necessary to effectively address and facilitate efficient prosecution of illegal racing behavior. This is a housekeeping change to bring the code up to date with the current racing activities in Kent. This amendment has no additional impact to the existing racing laws.”
The council likes the expansion of the no racing zone.
“Racing is not legal in the city, this is if a convicted racer is in the area for extra punishment,” Councilmember Zandria Michaud said.
City Attorney Tammy White told the council the reasons behind the amendments.
“We are working with police trying to go after the racers, those who attend the races and those who promote and advertise and create these races,” White said. “We are trying to hit each person involved in the process.”
Council President Bill Boyce asked why the ordinance to stay out of areas of racing cannot be used to cover the entire city.
“Why not do it citywide,” Boyce said. “Now it’s like Whac-a-mole and they just go to another area.”
White explained that the stay out of areas of racing law cannot be that general. She said the law needs to define a specific area to avoid court challenges about freedom of travel restrictions. The person shouldn’t face criminal charges if they are going to a grocery store rather than the racing event.
“We need to take a careful balance rather than the entire city,” White said.
Councilmember Les Thomas called illegal street racing “a real problem.”
According to city documents, Kent became the first municipality in the state over 20 years ago to pass an ordinance that criminalized attendance at an illegal street race and permitted the court to order those convicted of illegal street racing to stay out of certain areas of the city designated as no racing zones.
So far, however, racing has continued and even spread.
Kent Police and city leaders hope the state legislation passed this year in Olympia to combat illegal street racing will make a difference when the new laws start in January 2024. Those measures include updated state impound laws to allow vehicles used in racing to be impounded with a 72-hour hold and allows for the seizure/forfeiture of racers’ vehicles upon a second or subsequent racing conviction.
“We will be able to impound after January,” White said to the council.