San Jose may lift its 30-year ban on cars cruising

Calling it a discriminatory and antiquated policy, San Jose City Councilman Raul Peralez wants the city to repeal its 30-year-old ban on cruising and instead enforce stronger policies on truly dangerous vehicle activities like speeding, drag racing and sideshows.

“This is one that has wrongfully criminalized Chicanos and the lowrider car culture that rose up out of the civil rights movement right here in San Jose,” Peralez, who represents the downtown area and is running for mayor, said Thursday.

And he has personal experience to back him up. As a boy, he went cruising with his parents his and eventually on his own his when he owned a 1965 Chevrolet Impala SuperSport in the 1980s and ’90s. The ban was passed in the early 1990s as a way to curb gang violence, but Peralez said it was too broad a brush to use. He was pulled over dozens of times and “curbsat” as officers searched his car with the assumption he had gang affiliations, he recalled. When they found out he was a scholar athlete at Cupertino High School or, later, a math major at San Jose State, they would ask why someone like him was out cruising in a lowrider.

“The commonly held and racially based misconception was that lowriders were all gang members or were engaged in criminal activity, and the prohibition on cruising served as a tool to perpetuate and give legal credibility to racial discrimination and the enforcement and criminalization that followed,” he said.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 12: San Jose district three council member Raul Peralez speaks to Ruben Mendez, of San Jose, during a presser on Santa Clara Street and 19th Street in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

Not surprisingly, the San Jose Police Department doesn’t see the issue the same way as Peralez.

San Jose Police Sgt. Stephen Donahue said during a city meeting Wednesday that the department does not want the city council to repeal the ban. “This is a tool we use to ensure the safety of the public,” he said, “and this is something that while right now it is not a tool being used very often, this is not something we want to lose out of our toolbox .”

But Peralez, who still serves as a reserve police officer, doesn’t think the department should have a discriminatory tool in its toolbox to begin with — especially if it’s one that’s not even used.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12: A no cruising sign at the intersection of Santa Clara Street and 20th Street in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 12: A no cruising sign at the intersection of Santa Clara Street and 20th Street in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

His office asked for statistics on the enforcement of the ban, and there are no recorded citations in recent years. Donahue said that because municipal code violations are not regularly tracked, the department could not say whether citations had been issued or not without hand-checking each one. Peralez countered that the city manager’s office had no record of any fines paid for that violation going back 20 years.

Peralez emphasized that eliminating the ban won’t change any policies connected to sideshows which have become a growing problem in San Jose. “It’s still illegal to block an intersection,” said Peralez, who strongly supports the crackdown on sideshows. “Donuts and burnouts are illegal. All those tools will still be available.”

For Peralez’s proposal to move ahead, the city manager’s office must show the council how much it will cost to remove the “No Cruising Zone” signs and eliminate the ban. Peralez — who says he wants to keep one of the signs as a memento when they come down — expects that to come before the council in June and believes he has the support of the council to repeal the ban.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12: San Jose district three council member Raul Peralez speaks during a presser on Santa Clara Street and 19th Street in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group )
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 12: San Jose district three council member Raul Peralez speaks during a presser on Santa Clara Street and 19th Street in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group )

At a Thursday news conference, Peralez was flanked by several lowrider enthusiasts. David Polanco of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose emphasized the work car clubs have done in the community partnering with nonprofits and said they want to make cruising a family-friendly event without fear of being harassed.

Ruben Mendez, a lowrider for more than 30 years, spoke about how lowriding and cruising is something passed down by generations. He followed in the footsteps of his father and uncles and said others bring along their kids and grandkids.

“It’s a hobby of ours. We put money in our cars, and we like to show them off,” said Mendez, who owns a baby blue 1961 Impala and belongs to the East Side Riders car club. “The vibe is much better than it was 30 years ago.”

‘SHAKESBEERIENCE’ IS BACK: My inbox rarely yields as pleasant a surprise as finding out that ShakesBEERience, the free and fun series of staged readings of Shakespeare plays, is returning May 16 after a hiatus that felt longer than it actually was. With the series’ former homebase, Cafe Stritch, closed and slowly transforming into Mama Kin, Silicon Valley Shakespeare and Buck Hill Productions are bringing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to the patio of San Pedro Square Market with a 6:30 pm start.

If you’ve never been to one of these, the actors make great use of their surroundings, hopping onto tables and occasionally taking a swig or two from a convenient pint of beer while performing an abridged version of the play that hits all the highlights.

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