Cruisin' the Ave

Cruisin’ the Ave requires a special permit and insurance because Yakima has a ban on cruising.

Insurance costs killed Cruisin’ the Ave, the monthly summertime event during which show-quality cars drive up and down Yakima Avenue as spectators line the street, but the Yakima City Council on Tuesday will consider ideas for reviving it.

T.J. Davis, owner of Shorty’s Sweets & Treats, the downtown business that’s organized the event for six years, announced the cancellation at a June 4 Yakima City Council meeting, citing city insurance requirements that were too expensive. His insurer couldn’t offer a policy for less than $2,300, he said.

“It was just too much for us to bear,” Davis told the council.

Staff members said city insurance requirements haven’t changed. And their research found an insurance policy could have been obtained for much less. The city’s insurance agent, Jeff Widdows of PayneWest Insurance, met with staff July 1 to discuss the matter, according to a July 5 memo from staff to the council.

“Mr. Widdows made contact with an insurance company in Spokane and explained the situation,” the memo from city senior assistant attorney Sara Watkins said. “That company will insure groups wishing to organize a cruise night for approximately $500-$750 per event, depending on the number of participants.”

Further, if the events’ policies were bought in bulk, that price could be as low as $300 per event, the memo said.

That surprised Rob Tee of Gress Kinney Parrish Insurance, the Yakima insurance agent who quoted Davis the higher number. According to Tee, the city’s insistence on not allowing two exclusions in the policy — coverage for participants and coverage of potential assault and battery — is not standard for municipal-event policies and would make insuring the event cost-prohibitive.

“My carriers looked at it and said there’s just no way they could comply with the requirements,” Tee said.

If indeed Widdows, who was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon, found coverage for $500-$750, he “deserves a gold star,” Tee said.

“I’d want to read that to make sure it didn’t include those exclusions,” he said. “If that’s the case, that’s a small price to pay if you want that event to happen. I’m thinking, ‘Why are we still discussing this? Done.’”

Joe Mann, owner of Ron’s Coin & Collectibles and president of the Downtown Association of Yakima board, had a similar reaction. If it’s around $500, the association may be able to cover it or at least contribute, he said, emphasizing that he hadn’t broached the subject with the rest of the board yet and couldn’t speak for the other members. But if Shorty’s kicked in a hundred bucks and a couple of participating car clubs did too, it’d be a simple fix, Mann said.

“Everybody chips in a little, you create a partnership, and you still have this special event,” he said. “And the city’s covered. Everybody’s happy.”

The council will try to clarify the discrepancy between the two insurance quotes on Tuesday, Mayor Kathy Coffey said.

“We’re trying to get some answers,” she said. “There seems to be conflicting reports as far as insurance.”

Coffey for one would like to keep the Cruisin’ the Ave events alive.

“They’re popular, and it’s worth trying to work through it to find a resolution,” she said.

Cruising history

The reason the events require a special permit and insurance in the first place is Yakima’s ban on cruising. Driving up and down Yakima Avenue for recreation was a common practice on weekend nights for decades prior to 1994, when the city banned it following a downtown shooting. That incident was the culminating event, but there had been concern for years as gang activity in the city increased. The city also instituted a curfew on minors in 1994, but that has gone unenforced since a state court ruled a similar curfew unconstitutional.

The special-permit cruise nights were created a decade later as a compromise following an effort led by cruising advocate Councilman Ron Bonlender. The first officially sanctioned cruise nights took place in 2005. The event faded away after Bonlender’s 2011 death, but it was revived in 2014 by Davis’ business as the Ron Bonlender Memorial Car Show and Cruise the Ave.

Insurance for the events was handled in recent years by the Downtown Association of Yakima, which was the formal permit holder, though Shorty’s actually organized the event. But DAY, which had operated under the auspices of the city, became its own autonomous nonprofit in 2017 and starting last year did not carry insurance for the event.

If the insurance requirements were already in place last year when his company insured the event on Shorty’s behalf, that’s news to Tee. Now that they’re spelled out, his carriers have balked at them, he said.

Meanwhile the city of Selah, which has no anti-cruising laws, has taken up some of the cruising slack. Selah’s parks department is promoting Selah Summer Cruise Nights on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month all summer long, including this Saturday, which would have been a Cruise the Ave night in Yakima. Cruise events also are planned Aug. 10 and Sept. 14.

“The car clubs called us and stated they couldn’t do it in Yakima,” Selah recreation and tourism manager Treesa Morales said. “They were looking for a different place to do it.”

The first one, on June 8, was a big success.

“It was a couple hundred cars,” Morales said. “The streets were lined up with people watching. And we only saw good from it. The public loved it. The car clubs loved it. The businesses loved it.”

That’s what Davis and Mann had here in Yakima, and it’s what they want back. Davis went so far as to call for a repeal on the cruising ban, and he has some support.

“I’m all for repealing the ordinance, so we can get people downtown,” Councilman Jason White said.

He hasn’t raised that idea officially yet, so he isn’t sure whether it’s likely to get enough support from other council members.

Coffey, for one, was hesitant to voice support for repeal. There were good reasons for the ban back in 1994, she said.

“Jason wasn’t around when we had some problems with that,” Coffey said.

That notwithstanding, she’s confident there’s some kind of workable solution.

“In either case, it’s worth working through it,” she said.

Reach Pat Muir at pmuir@yakimaherald.com.