Jeff Jardine

Jardine: In overdrive to bring back cruising

Arturo Mendoza Jr. is a car buff. He has a 1962 Chevy Impala, a work in progress he calls his "project car."

His dad, Arturo Sr., owns a '63 Impala and a 1971 Chevy Cheyenne Super pickup, both show ready.

Arturo Jr. would love nothing more than to be able to cruise McHenry Avenue on a Friday or Saturday night, just as his parents did.

"I've grown up hearing about cruising," said Arturo Jr., 19. "My parents grew up here cruising. My grandparents came here in the '50s and they know about the cruising. That's basically all there was to do in those days."

Just one problem: The city banned cruising in 1995 after some cruises turned violent and crowds unwieldy, with too many cruisers coming from out of the area and causing problems.

"There's got to be a way to bring it back safely and with limitations," the Modesto Junior College freshman said.

If that happens, it's because Mendoza went about it the right way. Clearly, he didn't sleep through his government class at Beyer High.

This young man has future politician written all over him.

He approached City Councilman Dave Lopez with the idea, and Lopez explained the process to him: Prepare a presentation, ask to be placed on the agenda and be ready.

"I wrote everything down, condensed it and modified it," Mendoza said. "I spoke with different people. I went to some of the businesses on McHenry Avenue. I got feedback and signatures from 25 (business owners). It's good for business. McHenry has been hit hard by the economy -- way hard."

Mendoza came prepared when he stood before the council in February.

"I think we were all incredibly impressed by this young man," Councilwoman Kristin Olsen said. "He brought documents and posters. He dressed in a suit. You could tell he'd given it a lot of thought and did his research. It was as if he'd anticipated what difficulties there were in cruising and had solutions."

Mendoza wants cruising four Saturday nights in June each year, with cruisers required to buy permits from the city at $40 each. Only Stanislaus County residents would be issued permits. Volunteers would act as lookouts for the police, and the cruise would last from 6 to 10 p.m.

The permit sales, he said, would offset police costs.

The council liked his style so much that they voted 6-0 to endorse further study and directed the Police Department to prepare a feasibility study.

"You need to put yourself out there," Mendoza said. "If you stay quiet, nothing's going to change. But if you go out there and be presentable, prepared and speak out, you never know. I would rather die knowing I'd tried than not. My whole family was there when I presented it."

Chief Roy Wasden, who is out of the office this week and unavailable for comment, initially expressed reservations about bringing back the cruise, but took his marching orders from the council, Olsen said.

"I hope the department is evaluating the honest merits," she said. "I have some really fond memories of cruising before it got out of control."

Even with the best of plans, it will be a hard sell to the police.

Part of the problem is that they commit so many resources to the downtown nightclub scene. They spend roughly $305,000 a year on overtime for officers.

Assistant Chief Mike Harden said the department has some work to do, such as determining whether the city can issue permits for specific cars or exclude out-of-county cruisers on McHenry, which is a state highway (108).

"Sure, you might be able to control the 80 to 100 people who get permits," Harden said. "But what about the 4,000 or 5,000 who come in (without permits)? I lived Graffiti Nights. Repealing the ordinance wholesale is something we're vehemently against."

Harden said business owners in the 1990s opposed the cruise and the barricades that kept customers from getting to their businesses.

Since Mendoza made his presentation to the council in February, another group asked the council to allow cruising.

"They've come up with proposals, but is it a workable, doable plan?" Harden said.

Beginning Saturday, Mendoza said he'll begin knocking on doors in neighborhoods just off McHenry, presenting his plan to the residents and asking for their input.

"I'll be taking their comments and writing them down," Mendoza said. "Lots of people are set in their ways and remember how out of control it got (in the 1990s). We want everybody to be onboard."

Spoken like a person who someday could cruise into public office.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

  Comments