Repealed San Jose cruising ban about public safety, not racism

On Tuesday the San Jose City Council is set to finalize a plan to lift a ban on cruising in the city.  The move, which was initially approved at the end of June, is being hailed as a way to remove a racist and outdated policy which penalizes Latino culture and heritage. But, one former member of the council says the policy was always simply about public safety, not racism. 

For more than 35 years, street signs in San Jose made the point in no uncertain terms that no cruising is allowed.  If all goes as expected on Tuesday, the city council will have a formal second reading of the plan to strike this ordinance from the books and it should be approved without further debate. 

Blanca Alvarado was on the city council when the cruising ban was initially approved in 1986.  "It was dubbed the ‘cruising capital of the world' and every weekend Friday, Saturday and Sunday there were hordes of cars that cruised up and down Story Road," Alvarado said. 

Alvarado represented the east side of San Jose, which includes the intersection of King and Story Roads, which was the epicenter of San Jose’s cruising culture. 

"Residents were not able to get into their driveways, police officers couldn’t provide services, firefighters could not provide services the parking lots of the merchants were completely overtaken by the cruisers," Alvarado said.

The repeal was initially introduced by council member Raul Peralez who owned a 1965 Impala Super-Sport. 

"Over the years, I was stopped dozens of times by the police and nearly every time, I was made to sit on a curb while I and my car were searched. I was questioned about presumed gang involvement," Peralez said at a news conference when initially introduced his plan to repeal the ordinance.

In a written memo to his council colleagues, Peralez said: "The prohibition on cruising served as a tool to perpetuate and give legal credibility to racial discrimination and the enforcement and criminalization that followed."

But Alvarado takes exception to the idea that the policy, and the members of the city council at the time, were racist.

"The inference in the memo, and the discussion at the city council back on June 28th, inferred that it was a racist act.  That is far, far, far from the truth," Alvardado said.  

Alvarado said she feels it is important the public record be correct on the true origins of the cruising ban.  "I want to make sure, that in the historical annals of the city, that it not be viewed because it had been previously enacted out of racism but in fact had been enacted as a public safety, quality of life, issue," Alvarado said. 

The San Jose Police Department opposed the repeal and said it was not currently being enforced, but it did give the department extra flexibility if needed. Many of the "no cruising zone" signs around the city have already been taken down over the past month despite the requirement for one final, procedural, vote by the city council.

Councilman Raul Peralez was not available for comment on Monday.