The Yakima City Council voted Tuesday to scrap outdated sections of the municipal code that prohibit cruising events in the city limits.
The council voted 5-2 to repeal code requirements for commercial liability insurance and special events permits related to cruising, with Kathy Coffey and Carmen Mendez the dissenting votes.
But don’t fill up the gas tank on your hot rod yet. City Clerk Sonya Claar Tee said the vote does not immediately repeal the code requirements and people cannot simply start hosting cruising events around town.
Staff now will draft an ordinance repealing the cruising control ordinance for council’s consideration at its Aug. 5 meeting. If approved, changes will take place in early September, city spokesman Randy Beehler said.
The council also directed staff to recruit a group of cruising advocates to meet and discuss potential ways to address concerns about liability insurance requirements. That group will be formed soon, Beehler said.
The trigger for Tuesday’s vote came at a June 4 council meeting, when the organizer of Cruisin’ the Ave — a popular event featuring classic and custom cars driving up and down Yakima Avenue — announced the cancellation of the summertime showcase for the first time in six years.
T.J. Davis, owner of Shorty’s Sweets and Treats, said the city’s insurance requirements were too expensive. The cheapest policy his insurer could find cost $2,300, Davis told the council.
But in a July 5 memo, City Manager Cliff Moore shared findings from the city’s legal counsel pointing out that special event insurance necessary for Cruisin’ the Ave is available at an estimated $300 to $750 per event.
Although the city should not sponsor or insure the event, according to Moore’s memo, local car clubs could band together for better rates.
City legal staff felt strongly that the insurance requirements should remain in place and that getting rid of them would expose the city to increased liability, Moore said in the memo.
“We strongly believe it would be detrimental,” he said of repealing the insurance requirements. “If we don’t prohibit it, it’s as if we’re sanctioning it.”
City staff repeated those points at Tuesday’s meeting.
But several council members said they felt the municipal code on cruising and special events was outdated and that Cruisin’ the Ave brought welcome crowds to the downtown area.
“It does a lot for our town, where increased numbers should be the norm,” said Councilman Jason White. “It’s a good group, a great environment and atmosphere.”
Colleda Monick, a community development specialist, told the council she researched cruising ordinances in other cities.
Richland, Arlington, Everett and Union Gap had insurance requirements similar to Yakima’s. But Selah, which has absorbed cruising-related business from car club members disgruntled by the situation in Yakima, treats its cruising events as part of normal traffic, Monick said.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Coffey asked what factors could change the insurance requirements. Monick said the involvement of vehicles owned or rented by sponsors required automobile liability. Liquor or live animals at an event also created additional insurance requirements, she said.
Monick said the city’s insurance agent, Jeff Widdows of Payne West Insurance, had found an insurance policy that would meet city requirements for about $500.
Councilwoman Holly Cousens, who ultimately made the motion that the city repeal the municipal code requirements, asked to hear from members of the public. Many spoke in favor of cutting insurance red tape and working with car clubs.
Union Gap resident Michael Brown said he had spoken with many people who wanted Cruisn’ the Ave to continue and that he had never witnessed any fighting or shootings at past events. He added that the suggestion for car club members to band together and form a nonprofit organization for an event that lasted one night was not reasonable.
Javier Gonzalez, who said he has been showcasing low-riders for a while, said he and other car club members have begrudgingly started taking their business to Selah or Moxee, although they would prefer to contribute to Yakima’s economy.
“We are trying to help you rebuild it,” Gonzalez said, referring to Yakima. “We’re asking to bring our families out and represent Yakima.”
Cousens said she had attended cruise nights and never witnessed any problems.
“It does bring people downtown,” she said.
City Attorney Sara Watkins said that even if the council voted to repeal the ordinance, cruise nights would still count as a special event and would still require a special event permit and insurance.
Councilman Brad Hill said he didn’t understand why Cruisin’ the Ave qualified as a special event and that he liked Selah’s take on cruising, but he also wanted to respect the advice of the city’s insurance broker. Coffey said she also preferred to follow the advice of city staff.
“I think there is a unanimous desire to have this go forward,” Coffey said. “The question is how and when and for us to do this in a wise manner.”
Hill ultimately voted to repeal the municipal code requirements, saying he hoped the vote would expedite a revised policy.