Lowrider cruise in National City could result in a hefty price tag for organizers

National City can impose hefty fees on Highland Avenue lowrider cruise operators, including $8,000 for police departments.

The potential charges stem from recommendations made by the city’s police department during a recent meeting between city leaders and the organizer, the United Lowrider Coalition, to assess how the first cruise was going.

Cruises were banned in 1992 in response to concerns that the popular pastime, which often drew crowds from outside the lowrider community, was leading to crime and traffic jams. At the Coalition’s urging, the city has agreed to temporarily allow cruising on Highland Avenue for six months through an organized and permitting process.

The May 6 cruise brought out dozens of lowriders from auto clubs in and around National City in what was a nostalgic and festive time for car enthusiasts and many families. It was an event coordinated with Sweetwater High School, where the vehicle caravan formed, and several businesses in the immediate area said they were busy with customers.

Organizers pushing to repeal the cruise ban won a permit in April to sail from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. once a month. The Coalition paid a processing fee of $272. They planned to watch themselves as cruising was sometimes criminalized. They also could not afford law enforcement assistance with traffic control, members said at an April meeting with auto clubs.

The challenge came after 9 p.m. when Coalition members and volunteers attempted to shut down the event, but found themselves in trouble after 10 p.m. due to a large turnout. Coalition member Jovita Arellano said in a previous interview that she asked the police for help, but they refused to help because their services were not part of the event permit.

Law enforcement did, however, respond to cruise-related calls for service they received from the public, according to police records. A total of eight calls were received, ranging from a parking complaint to a report of a group that did not participate in the cruise but were in the immediate area brandishing knives. Officers also helped divert nine MTS buses whose routes were interrupted by the traffic jams, which stretched for about 30 blocks, Police Chief Jose Tellez said.

For these and other reasons, the police department is recommending that the city assign six police officers and one police sergeant per cruise overtime, at a cost of approximately $7,800. Costs could increase to as much as $15,000 to $20,000 per event if additional city resources, like public works or private services, are needed, Tellez added.

Coalition members told a city council meeting on Tuesday that they could not pay the bill and were worried about the future of the trial cruise period.

National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, center, Councilwoman Mona Rios and Police Chief Jose Tellez discuss the cruise.

(Tammy Murga/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

On Wednesday, Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, Council Member Mona Rios and Tellez held a press conference to address the concerns.

“We wanted to clarify that cruises will not be removed and secondly, there are no resources or requirements that are asked of the United Lowrider Coalition that are not asked of any other (permit) holder,” said Sotelo-Solis. .

Generally, co-sponsored events have their fees for municipal services waived, including police services. If an event is not co-sponsored, “then all city services must be paid for,” said Armando Vergara, the city’s director of community development. He added that past events that required police services ranged from $500 to $15,000 per event.

The mayor said if policing is needed, there are ways to help the Coalition find the funding, such as tapping into community grants or having the city co-sponsor the event.

It’s unclear if payment will be required for the next cruise event, scheduled for June 3, but Sotelo-Solis said a meeting is scheduled for next week to brainstorm ideas for improving cruises.

On June 7, the city council is also due to formally discuss the police department’s recommendations.

Richard L. Militello