The Española Valley’s beloved lowrider culture clashed with emergency state health orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 this past weekend.
What was originally described as a cruise around downtown devolved into a sort of street party, with people gathering outside their cars, that was then shut down by New Mexico State Police. One person, the Albuquerque-based organizer, was cited under the public health order.
The event came as COVID-19 cases spiked across the state to unforeseen numbers, including in Rio Arriba County. Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham amended the public health order to prohibit gatherings of more than five people.
In a Community Services Committee meeting Monday night, several city councilors expressed their appreciation for the event while also questioning its safety.
“I’m not sure if the lowrider event was an event that was pre-planned, but I just want to say that it turned out to be a very nice event and I was very pleased with how many people were in town,” Councilor Dee Dee Valdez said. “I was really happy to see all the people, the crowds. I saw people wearing masks, but yeah it was a nice event.”
Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Tim Salazar echoed some of her sentiments.
“A lot of beautiful art on wheels, it was of course, what I saw in town, a huge turnout,” he said. “But I am concerned, many people wore masks, many people did not wear masks, and that to me is a huge concern.”
Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez asked what preparations were made with the city beforehand.
“But right now I have concerns, like they do, about people that were unmasked, and so I want to ask our city manager, did we have anything going on with that group officially?" she said. "If we did, when did all that happen, and if we didn’t, why were they utilizing city property?”
City Manager Xavier Martinez said the city was aware of the plans for a cruise and had made some arrangements to facilitate it.
“Ms. Joann Medina reached out to me about two weeks ago, asking about a cruise through Española’s downtown, primarily around the Calle Espinoza, Hunter area there, and that there was an organizer coming from Albuquerque that was spearheading this,” he said.
That organizer, Corey Ringo, was the individual cited by State Police under the Public Health Order. According to the state police public information officer, they responded to a complaint at 405 North Paseo de Oñate at 3:55 pm. Ringo was summoned into the First Judicial District Court in Tierra Amarilla. Neither he nor Medina returned phone calls by press-time.
“There was a flyer going around about a cruise night in Española so that’s what information was relayed to me as far as how this event was going to happen, it was just going to be a cruise through downtown Española encouraging all riders to come out and show off their rides,” Martinez said. “They had asked if they could use the Hunter parking area as a staging area and that was pretty much it. Nothing else but a cruise night and for people to park and cruise around the area, that was fine, it was not a big deal.”
However, the event soon grew into a much larger ordeal, drawing visitors from around the state.
“People were texting me and informing me of what was going on and it looked like it turned out to be a street party and it was backing up street traffic down Paseo de Oñate, so that’s why the PD (city police) got involved and State Police were involved as well because it was a little bit more overwhelming than what the information we were presented in regards to that event,” Martinez said.
The Streets department also placed flags along Paseo de Oñate for potential photo opportunities as the cars drove by.
“They didn’t mention anything about having a block party, which is what it seemed to be,” he said.
Mayor Javier Sanchez soon arrived around the same time as the police and began distributing disposable masks. He estimates about 80 percent of attendees were masked.
“It was just a matter of containing and trying to get everybody into their vehicles as soon as we could. That was my main goal at that time,” he said in an interview Monday evening. “It’s tough because we love the opportunity to show off the lowriders, and I think a lot of people did have the chance to do that, but it just wasn’t the right opportunity for as many people as were there to try and enjoy it, to be out of their vehicles.”
Councilor Martinez pointed to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the area as a reason for extra caution.
“Nobody wants to stop anyone from cruising their rolling art, nobody wants to do that especially not in our governing body I’m sure. But I do have the same concerns that Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Tim stated. We won’t know how much this can affect our community’s health and well-being, and we won’t know this for at least 14 days and that’s my concern,” she said.
“Right now, in the zip code 87532, which is the west side of Española and the Santa Clara area, we’ve jumped up by almost 30 percent. In a week of COVID cases, we were at 68 for about three days, and then all of a sudden we started jumping and it started going up relatively quickly and right now we’re at 91, so that’s very scary.”
She emphasized that she didn’t blame the city manager for how the situation turned out, but that future cruise nights would need precautions like not allowing people to exit their vehicles and linger.