San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose may reverse ‘discriminatory’ lowrider ban
San Jose is considering reversing a decades-old ban on car cruising that officials say is “discriminatory” against Latinos and the lowrider culture — but law enforcement officials say they are worried revoking the ban could lead to more traffic-related crimes.
San Jose prohibited cruising on specific downtown streets in 1992 in response to crime and traffic-related incidents, often unrelated to the cruising itself, according to city officials.
While lowriders continued cruising the streets despite the ordinance, San Jose police have not enforced the law or issued citations related to it in decades, said Council Member Raul Peralez, who wrote the proposal to lift the ban.
“There’s more than enough good reason as to why we should get rid of this (law),” Peralez said. “There’s still more than enough protections for all of the other things that are illegal that we would want to continue to enforce that aren’t discriminatory in nature.”
On Wednesday, a city committee voted unanimously to direct the city manager to take a number of steps to end the car cruising ban as part of the city’s budget process, including eliminating the fines, fees and signage on city streets related to the ban. The council’s vote also directs the city manager to look into how San Jose can further address incidents and behaviors that may arise from large gatherings at cruising events.
A final City Council vote on the legislation is scheduled sometime in June when the council plans to vote on its 20222023 budget, city officials said.
Wednesday’s vote comes as lowrider communities across California are asking cities to lift decades-old bans on cruising. Lowriding began in the 1940s among Mexican American youth and endures as a celebration and expression of their culture.
In Sacramento, members of a local lowrider commission met with city and law enforcement officials in March to urge them to lift the ban. A similar 30-year ban was temporarily lifted in National City (San Diego County) where the city is allowing a local lowrider group to police themselves during cruising events, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Their first legal cruise was held June 6.
Unlike National City, Peralez said he doesn’t think San Jose needs to do a short-term pilot to test whether they should lift the ban.
Instead, he said, city officials should work with San Jose police on preventing incidents that are causing injuries and deaths on city streets, such as speeding and sideshows. The city passed a law last year making it illegal to encourage or promote sideshow events.
“It’s not cruising that we’re actually trying to enforce,” said Peralez, who grew up cruising with his parents in San Jose. “It’s these other things that are happening that happen to also be illegal.”
Lowriding began in the 1940s among Mexican American youth in zoot suits, known as pachucos, in the U.S. Southwest, specifically in Los Angeles, would buy cheap vehicles and fix them, said John Ulloa, a professor of history and cultural anthropology at Skyline College and a lowrider.
As people began to use hydraulics to adjust the height of the vehicles, some used the equipment to avoid citations and harassment from police officers for having the car too low to the ground, said Ulloa, whose research focuses on lowrider culture.
Over the years, lowriders have been criminalized due to a small minority of people, who are not involved in lowriding, causing trouble and the stereotypical representation of lowriders on films and media, he said.
“The banning of cruising is a form of institutionalized racism,” he said.
San Jose police Lt. Steve Donohue asked the city committee to “not take away this tool … that we use to ensure the safety of the public.”
When the ordinance was created, Donohue said, it wasn’t only the cruising that caused problems but also the fights and other incidents that broke out because of it.
“This is something that while right now is not a tool that’s been used very often, it is something that we do not want to lose out of our toolbox,” said Donohue.
“This is long overdue,” said Veronica Amador, who called in during Wednesday’s meeting to support the proposal. She said it was “frustrating” having to explain to her children why cruising isn’t allowed.
“We’re being criminalized for wanting to show our culture,” she said.
David Polanco, the president of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose, said Wednesday’s vote was “a good step forward.”
He said he hopes the Lowrider Council of San Jose can follow the foot steps of the San Francisco Lowrider Council in cultivating a stronger relationship with the city to continue the tradition.
“That’s the goal,” he said, “so that we can we can continue the culture and highlight it in San Jose.”