SAN JOSE OFFICIALS are looking to make amends following what state officials have called a racist handling of the city’s annual Cinco de Mayo festivities. But some residents say it’s not that simple.

San Jose councilmembers unanimously passed a memo in the Rules and Open Government Committee on May 24, asking the San Jose Police Department to open better lines of communication with residents about road closures that may impact car and foot traffic when large events are planned. SJPD, in coordination with Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol, closed several major on- and off-ramps leading into downtown on the weekend of Cinco de Mayo.

Councilmembers Omar Torres, Sergio Jimenez, Peter Ortiz and Domingo Candelas authored the memo.

The closures caused severe traffic problems and essentially walled off the east side of the city from downtown festivities that included cruising. Local and state officials called the policing practices racist, claiming San Jose has never had as many ramp closures for other large events, even on the Fourth of July weekend.

Police could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Actions speak louder

Jessica Noriega, secretary of lowriding car club Chicana Dreams, said she’s glad the issue is being addressed, but wonders how that will translate into action.

“I feel like the memo is just kind of to say, ‘Hey, you guys are being heard,’” she told San José Spotlight. “But until we actually see change implemented, it’s kind of hard to really believe that anything’s going to change next year.”

Noriega, 33, has been lowriding with her sister since she was little.  She was unable to attend this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations in downtown San Jose due to the ramp closures. She was disappointed in how the city handled things and feels the police overstepped their authority, Noriega said.

“We grew up around that whole environment,” she said. “We’ve been cruising since we could barely walk, you know, and it just feels like they’re trying to eliminate the culture.”

The San Jose City Council unanimously lifted a 36-year ban on cruising last May after some officials called it discriminatory, bringing lowriding back to city streets.

As someone who began lowriding in middle school, Councilmember Ortiz coauthored the memo to keep Cinco de Mayo and its cultural activities a part of San Jose’s community fabric. He hopes it will spur conversations between the Latino community and the police department.

“We’ve been cruising since we could barely walk, you know, and it just feels like they’re trying to eliminate the culture.”

Jessica Noriega, Chicana Dreams car club

“As long as we keep this channel of communication between all community residents, we can at least plan ahead and make sure that there’s as little bumps as possible,” he told San José Spotlight.

David Polanco, president of the San Jose United Lowrider Council, said he thinks the memo is a step in the right direction, but an open dialogue between residents and the police needs to be fostered to address community concerns.

Polanco said he wants to work in collaboration with the police and city leaders to create a fun, family-friendly event.

“What’s happened has happened, what’s done is done,” he told San José Spotlight. “All we can do now is make something positive.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.