National City’s first lowrider cruise Friday was a success in the eyes of many, but organizers said they were concerned that police refused to respond to requests to ease traffic congestion and an alleged graffiti incident.
The event brought out scores of lowrider vehicles from in and around the South County city for the first of six test cruises on Highland Avenue. The cruises were banned in 1992 in response to concerns about traffic congestion and crime. But the city earlier this year agreed to temporarily suspend the law for six months at the urging of the United Lowrider Coalition, which argued that organized cruises involving the community and in partnership with law enforcement and the city can result in family-friendly events and bring revenue to local businesses.
Friday was phase one of the trial period and coalition members, with support from multiple car clubs from across San Diego County, stressed the importance of abiding by traffic laws, keeping streets clean and avoiding disorderly behavior.
The National City Police Department decided not to assign officers to the event or to put special traffic measures in place. Two to three police supervisors were expected to monitor the area and “if we need to call units from the field to (Highland Avenue), we will,” Police Chief Jose Tellez said in a previous interview.
Overall, considering that hundreds of vehicles participated in the cruise, the cruise was deemed a success, but there were some glitches with traffic congestion, according to the coalition. When they sought the police’s help, they refused, said Coalition member Jovita Arellano.
“I am a little concerned about that because (cars) were still on the street at like 10:20 pm I couldn’t get them off,” she said, adding that a police lieutenant reminded her the cruise was to be finished by 9 pm, according to the permit. “I went to the police and I asked them, ‘Can you please help me?’ and two officers told me, ‘No, not tonight. We expected this.”’”
Arellano said the officers did not explain why they declined to help, but she said, “my thoughts are, possibly, because we didn’t pay to have them as part of our team.”
Perhaps unrelated to the cruise, on a shopping center on Highland Avenue, an alleged tagging incident took place. Arellano said cleanup volunteers notified nearby police officers about the graffiti, but it is unclear whether they responded to the incident. A car club that declined to identify itself painted over the area that was tagged.
National City police did not return requests for comment Monday.
Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said she had not heard about the coalition’s concerns regarding police and stressed that “when someone calls 911, there’s response.”
“This is gonna be the time to revisit what worked, what didn’t and how it can be improved,” she said. “If there needs to be more law enforcement presence, then so be it. This is an event. Event organizers will be there at the table to share their concerns.”
Arellano said she is looking forward to meeting with the city and police about potential adjustments, but is concerned that “people will say, ‘Because of your event you have these problems.’ We did our best. We even left Highland Avenue cleaner than it was when we first started.”
Many participants, businesses and spectators spoke positively of the event, which kicked off at Sweetwater High School with student performances and food sales.
“We had a lot of business. We saw students, teachers, neighbors, it was awesome,” said Luis Santiago, a worker at TacoMan on Highland Avenue.
Several more took to social media to express mixed feelings about the event, including concerns that often come with events where large crowds are expected.
“Last Friday I shared a piece of my childhood/upbringing with my daughter — it was amazing! Thanks to everyone who helped bring back cruising on Highland,” said Liz Vasquez said on a Facebook post.
“For my case, my daughter’s gymnastics is on Highland. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid it at all,” said Stacy Macias in a different Facebook post.
Others suggested cruises could take place on different streets and on different days.