Cruisin' the Ave

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

Cruisin' the Ave, the monthly summertime event during which show-quality cars drive up and down Yakima Avenue as spectators line the street, won't happen this year. Not officially, anyway.

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. The group's 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.

This year's first cruise day, June 15, still featured the car show but not the official cruise. Several hundred cars still showed up and cruised, Davis said. The second cruise day was set for Saturday, July 13, with subsequent events set for Aug. 10 and Sept. 14.

The citycouncil will discuss the matter further at its Tuesday meeting. City staff research following Davis' announcement, which he made during the June 4 council meeting's public comment period, indicated there were no new insurance requirements. It also found that a 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.

Davis, who was unaware Cruisin' the Ave was on Tuesday's agenda, said Friday that "might be doable" if he could find sponsors. But he also disagrees with the insurance requirement, saying the city could solve the problem by repealing its anti-cruising ordinance. That way the cruise events wouldn't require special permits. 

Cruising Yakima Avenue was a common practice on weekend nights for decades prior to 1994, when the city banned it following a downtown shooting. A decade later the council, led by cruising advocate Councilman Ron Bonlender, voted to allow it on three designated weekends each year. 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 event 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. 

Davis said he believes his company's insurer didn't realize the extent of the coverage last year but caught the error this year and required the additional policy he can't afford. 

Meanwhile, the city of Selah 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 Saturday, which would have been a Cruise the Ave night in Yakima.

Reach Pat Muir at pmuir@yakimaherald.com.