San Jose City Councilman Raul Peralez may have lost his bid for mayor this year, but he won the admiration of the city’s lowrider community as he made good on a pledge to see the city lift its 36-year-old ban on cruising.
In a moment of triumph, Peralez — surrounded by hundreds of people and custom cars at San Jose City Hall — held aloft a last “No Cruising Zone” sign to cheers Wednesday.
“This is a huge win for our community here and for our city as a whole,” Peralez said, saying the unanimous council decision in June opens the opportunity to promote street safety and create a more equitable city. The repeal of the ban does not affect illegal activities related to sideshows.
Nearly 200 stylized cars — Chevy Impalas and Bel Airs, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs — filled City Hall plaza and Santa Clara Street, which was closed between Fourth and Sixth streets for most of the day. Food trucks and music by the Cisco Kid band added to the party atmosphere. There even was a gold 1965 Buick Riviera on display inside the rotunda — something no crowd in San Jose had seen before.
“Twenty years from now, we are going to be telling stories of this legendary day when we saw lowriders atop the City Hall plaza,” said Ricardo Cortez, an artist and marketing director of marketing at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. It took a massive effort by city departments, the VTA and volunteers from the United Lowrider Council of San Jose to turn City Hall into a Show and Shine.
Wednesday’s celebration was the end of a long journey since 1986, when the city council enacted the ban citing traffic congestion and the impeding of emergency vehicles on Santa Clara Street, Story Road and King Road. But lowrider advocates said it turned into a discriminatory policy that criminalized a Latino cultural activity and left lowriders looking over their shoulders for flashing lights for decades.
About four years ago when the San Jose Public Library hosted an exhibition on San Jose’s lowrider history, Peralez met David Polanco, president of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose, an advocacy group dedicated to maintaining the culture through cruising and charity events. The group’s big goal, Polanco said, was getting the ban repealed. He was taken aback when Peralez told him they would get that done.
“I was like, ‘who’s this guy?’ ” Polanco said to laughter. “But he was a man of his word. He reached out to us shortly after and we’ve been partnered up on many things throughout. I consider him a big advocate of the Lowrider Council and the lowrider community in San Jose.”
The celebration Wednesday likely will serve as a capstone for Peralez’s eight years on the city council, which come to an end in January. His parents, as well as his wife and children, were in the cheering crowd. “I think this is the way to have a going out party,” Peralez said.
The city council officially took the ban off the books on Aug. 9, and it’s been a race since then to see who would get rid of the “No Cruising Zone” signs first — city workers or people looking for a souvenir. They went so fast that the sign Peralez removed Wednesday was installed for the occasion. After removing it, Peralez didn’t want it circulating in the crowd, either. “I’m going to take that up to my office,” he said.