Lowrider groups feel targeted by San Antonio racing ordinance – mySA

Members from area lowrider groups on the Southside showed up in their decked out machines to a townhall meeting at the Scheh Center Tuesday, catching meeting organizers off guard.

District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran’s office organized the townhall with San Antonio Police Chief William McManus for Tuesday, June 9, with the hopes of hearing from her constituents about illegal street racing hotspots and the noise ordinance.

Joe De La Rosa, one of the founding members of the lowrider group Sueño, spoke as the voice for multiple lowrider groups in attendance, saying a proposed spectator ordinance would unfairly target a cultural staple. 

“This is a pastime that’s been around for generations,” De La Rosa said. 

Joe De La Rosa, one of the founding members of lowrider group Sueño, holds a picture of him and his 4-year-old daughter at one of their gatherings. He says the amendment would destroy happy moments like the one in the photo with his daughter. 

Joe De La Rosa, one of the founding members of lowrider group Sueño, holds a picture of him and his 4-year-old daughter at one of their gatherings. He says the amendment would destroy happy moments like the one in the photo with his daughter. 

Steven Santana | MySA

He said the proposed spectator ordinance directly impacts groups trying to enjoy a pastime important to Hispanic culture. McManus told De La Rosa in a side-conversation during the meeting that he agreed. 

But it was McManus pushing for the spectator ordinance in October 2021, which, if approved, would fine anyone observing an illegal street race, also known as a “street takeover,” up to $500. Spectators of street takeovers have been known to block streets and roadways. 

SAPD Chief William McManus responded to concerns from lowrider groups at a street racing townhall Tuesday, June 14.

SAPD Chief William McManus responded to concerns from lowrider groups at a street racing townhall Tuesday, June 14.

Steven Santana | MySA

Street racing has been an issue across the U.S. that grew in 2021. Texas legislature passed two laws, Senate Bill 1495 and House Bill 2315, in May 2021 to increase fines and punishments for street racing and takeovers. Dallas has similar ordinance on its books. 

The San Antonio ordinance was created in collaboration with the city’s public safety committee, the Express-News reported in October 2021. But San Antonio City Council has yet to approve the ordinance, and lowrider groups don’t want to see it passed. The Express-News reported in October that San Antonio police responded to 213 street racing incidents in September 2020 alone.

De La Rosa says lowrider and cruising culture dates back to the 1950s, where gas was one of the only commodities affordable to poor communities, so driving around town in personalized vehicles was something families could enjoy doing.

Now lowrider groups gather in parking lots — with permission if it belongs to a business —to celebrate that pastime, supporters say.

Members of various lowrider groups stand up when asked how many people were at the townhall meeting for the spectator ordinance. The crowd extended all the way into the back of the room.

Members of various lowrider groups stand up when asked how many people were at the townhall meeting for the spectator ordinance. The crowd extended all the way into the back of the room.

Steven Santana | MySA

De La Rosa recognizes that street racing is a problem, but he says those racers come to their events only to rev their engines. He sees them as separate.

“So these idiots can be anywhere near law abiding citizens — underage or not,” De La Rosa says. “And if my kid pulls out her phone, she can get ticketed $500. That’s the concern.”

The same could happen if a neighboring resident around a lowrider event calls in a noise complaint, which De La Rosa says happens often. He says this blanket ordinance could apply to other car clubs as well.

San Antonio ordinances say people involved in takeovers could face certain class C misdemeanors tickets, such as speeding, impeding traffic, or public intoxication, Express-News reported. Others could be charged with racing on highways and criminal mischief where applicable, which are class B misdemeanors.

De La Rosa pointed to a 2004 Arizona State University study saying community involvement, on top of enforcing existing fines and ordinances, is an effective way to address street racing issues. 

District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran said the June 14 townhall meeting was about street racing with regard to the noise ordinance, but concerned lowrider groups had different plans.

District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran said the June 14 townhall meeting was about street racing with regard to the noise ordinance, but concerned lowrider groups had different plans.

Steven Santana | MySA

Although Viagran reiterated that Tuesday’s meeting was not about the spectator ordinance, she encouraged members of the lowrider group to attend an upcoming public safety committee meeting and to voice their concerns on June 21 at 9 a.m. The meeting is scheduled to happen in the city council chambers 114 W. Commerce Street. 

“I’m going to take the findings that I got from this townhall to my council colleagues, and we need to maybe look at the unintended consequences of this ordinance,” Viagran said. 

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