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Cruising 'will not be eliminated,' National City mayor says

Lowrider cruising will continue in National City next month — but organizers may face a hefty bill to keep it going. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere explains.

Addressing concerns by the United Lowrider Coalition, National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis on Wednesday said cruising would continue in the South Bay city.

"We wanted to clarify that the cruises will not be eliminated," she said at the news conference in front of City Hall.

Lowrider cruising was banned in the city for roughly 30 years. It was brought back as a temporary six-month trial period. The first event back was May 6. Events are planned for every first Friday of the month until October.

After the first event early this month, the ULRC met with city officials for a post-event assessment. City officials gave organizers eight recommendations, among them was a requirement for one police sergeant and six officers for a cost of $7,813.33.

United Lowrider Coalition member Jovita Arellano said she’s unsure if the extra police are needed and where their organization will get that kind of money.

“We're not charging anybody to cruise down Highland Avenue, we're not making any money. We don't have that kind of money to pay per cruise,” she said.

Sotelo-Solis defended the recommendation, saying it was for the security of the participants and spectators and that it wasn't anything that wasn't asked of any other groups wanting to host events in the city. The original temporary use permit (TUP) filed by the ULRC said it expected 200 participants and a crowd of 50. The event drew thousands, she said.

“The TUP has evolved from 50 people that as was mentioned — maybe it was a church size — to thousands of people being on the sidewalk — possible traffic plan," she said. "So again, whether it's internally paid to us, as a city or to a private company, there are things that we need to revisit.”

Jacob Aere
United Lowrider Coalition members Jovita Arellano and Deanna Garcia talk with their political advisor Aida Castañeda in front of an orange lowrider, May 19, 2022.

The city will meet organizers next Monday to go over the recommendations.

One of the issues identified from the May 9 event was that the advertised time was 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., but according to National City Police Department, it started much earlier and didn't end until 11:30 p.m.

"Not only cars began cruising up and down Highland Avenue, spectators began setting up in parking lots up and down the street well in advance of the actual start time," police said in the assessment report.

Police recommended organizers have a posted start and stop time and adhere to them. Other recommendations include telling participants to follow the rule of the road, getting permission from business owners to use the parking lots to set up and inform and let police deal with any lawbreakers.

The United Lowrider Coalition’s political advisor Aida Castañeda said their group shouldn't be responsible for bad actors who take advantage of what she calls a family-friendly event.

“It is a public right of way. We talk about constitutionality and if we can even have a law that doesn't allow people to congregate in a space," Castañeda said. "So we are asking really interesting questions that deal with our right to walk a public street,”

Jacob Aere
United Lowrider Coalition members Jovita Arellano and Deanna Garcia talk with their political advisor Aida Castañeda in front of an orange lowrider, May 19, 2022.

During the cruising event, ULRC confront a group of taggers vandalizing a business and the situation escalated and the suspects pulled out knives, police said.

"We're trying to do this in the normal course of business on a Friday evening with everybody — residents, commuters, shoppers — everybody being affected," National City Police Chief Jose Tellez said. "So there has to be a little bit more thought put into this, especially to allow drivers the ability to reroute and not affect more traffic on Highland Avenue during the event."

Castaneda said the ban is a product of institutional racism and needs to be overturned.

“The Chicano experience was really born out of resistance,” she said. “So I think that a big part of what you saw on May 6 was you saw a group of people – whether they were residents of National City or were here to stand in solidarity – were here to stand against a law that we know was used to discriminate against our community.”

Sotelo-Solis said she was heartened to see inter-generational groups out there at the cruising night event early this month "watching the beautiful art and seeing hundreds of vehicles cruising."

She said she wants to help the ULRC to continue to make the event possible, including looking at event sponsorships and small business grants.

"Internally, if there are fees, as we do with others, we can be creative," she said. "There's always payment plans. There's always an opportunity to make whole the city of National City for any services that are provided."

The next cruising event is set for June 3.

Updated: May 19, 2022 at 5:22 PM PDT
This story was updated to include comments from United Lowrider Coalition members.