Car cruising could return to San Jose streets
Lowriders in downtown San Jose. Photo courtesy of Steven Martinez Jr./South Bay Visions.

After a decades-long ban, San Jose may ease the brakes on cars cruising city streets.

On Wednesday, the Rules and Open Government Committee unanimously approved exploring ending fees and fines associated with cruising—arguing it’s inherently discriminatory. The ban, which prohibits lowriders and other decked-out cars from driving slowly through city streets, was implemented in the 1990s to curb gang violence.

David Polanco, United Lowrider Council of San Jose (ULCSJ) chairman, said removing the ban will allow the Chicano community to feel more at ease and lead to better relations with the youth, the city and the police department.

“When I was growing up I spent my money working on my car and staying out of trouble or drinking,” Polanco told San José Spotlight. “That’s our goal now in the lowrider community.”

Councilmembers said there is no evidence to support its effectiveness, and instead said the ban ended a long celebrated part of the local Chicano culture born in the 1940s. The ban allowed officers to disproportionately police Black and brown residents.

“It has actually been decades since we have issued a (cruising) citation and this is not something (police) are out there enforcing,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, who introduced the proposal to end the ban. “It’s an example of the historic and antiquated practices in San Jose and our country.”

Peralez said he was subjected to discrimination and pulled over dozens of times for searches when driving his 1965 Impala Super Sport in his youth. When he asked why he was being pulled over, officers said his attire and car gave them “reasonable suspicion” to believe he was involved in gang activity, despite being an honors high school student, Peralez said.

Although cruising diminished in the early 2000s, crime and gang violence has persisted along with a rise in traffic-related violations.

There isn’t consensus 

Police, however, don’t want the ban lifted. Lt. Steven Donohue, with the San Jose Police Department research and development unit, said it’s a tool that helps combat sideshows or crimes that arise from large gatherings.

“When the ordinance was created it wasn’t the cruising itself that was causing problems,” Donohue said. “It was the heckling, the fights that would erupt, the burn out in the intersections, the bouncing of the cars that created this environment where crowds would gather and there were other incidents that were brought up because of it.”

Councilmembers said there are other existing laws to stop sideshows and other illegal activities. Last year the City Council approved penalties for those who encourage sideshow spectacles on social media, to reduce the rising rate of sideshows.

“It is still illegal to block an intersection, for example,” Peralez said. “We do not need (a cruising ban) to come out there and enforce that.”

Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said getting rid of the ban would support the local community, “instead of trying to whitewash the culture,” lowrider events could be a tool to revitalize downtown.

“We need to see (it) as propeller of vibrancy, fashion, music and liveliness that our city needs,” Arenas said.

Councilmember David Cohen agreed, arguing the city has disproportionately enforced cruising—allowing it in Santana Row, for example.

“People are driving their Lamborghinis and making so much noise that I can’t talk at the restaurants,” Cohen said. “Why is one behavior singled out as different from another behavior?”

Councilmember Dev Davis, who typically lends a sympathetic ear to police, said the cruising ban doesn’t make much sense.

Dozens of residents wrote letters and spoke at the meeting to advocate ending the ban. No one spoke in opposition.

Leaders from the ULCSJ of San Jose said they are happy to see San Jose take a step to rectify a historic wrong.

“We are here so that everyone can enjoy it. It’s not just for Chicanos or Mexicans,” Robert Diaz, vice president of ULCSJ, told San José Spotlight.

The Wednesday vote authorizes the city manager’s office to determine the cost of removing no cruising signage and taking the next steps to repeal the ban. The cost will be part of budget hearings, which start on May 17. If approved in the final budget, the ban will be repealed by June.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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