May 28, 1997
By Yolanda Reynolds
Photos by Mary J. Andrade
San Jose City Manager Regina V.K. Williams announced that her office, the Police Department, and the Cinco de Mayo festival sponsors, the G.I. Forum, had developed a plan that they thought would curb the sort of violence that erupted at the end of that celebration on May 4 in San Jose.
This year’s Cinco de Mayo is reported to have brought an estimated 400,000 ﬁesta participants into a four-block area in downtown San Jose. At the close of the celebration rioting broke out, primarily along East Santa Clara Street from Fourth to Tenth. But it was later revealed that there were also disturbances in other parts of downtown San Jose. In all, 200 people were arrested.
Williams began her remarks by stating that she did not “believe quantity (of people) is the problem.” She explained that the problem requires better management of the physical layout of the day’s events. She added that one improvement could be to reduce the number and size of stages. There were five large stages scattered throughout the area causing a severe jamming of people around them.
She stated that the City and the festival sponsors (G.I. Forum) would work closely with State ABC (Alcohol & Beverage Control) ofﬁcials to be better informed about and to strictly enforce the laws regarding liquor sales in and around the festival area.
She proposed that a program entertainment list be provided to City officials by the festival sponsors prior to the event. And, ﬁnally, she stated that the City need to aggressively intercede to prevent gang activity.
San Jose City Councilman David Pandori faulted the Manager’s report by stating that, “it (the report) was short on detail.” He pointed out that police data and eye witness reports that many of the festival participants did not purchase their liquor at the festival, but had come with liquor they had purchased elsewhere. He questioned the ability of the police force or any legislation proposed, that would, in fact, mitigate the problem of excess drinking at the festival. Pandori also pointed out that claims that the disorder at the festival was restricted to the period after the end of the festivals were incorrect and that there had been several stabbings, one at the front entrance of the Fairmont Hotel, earlier in the day.
Pandori also pointed out that the cost of the festival far exceeded the amount paid to the City by the festival sponsors. The G.I. Forum contributes $94,000 which does not meet the City’s cost of some $190,000. This includes such expenses as $111,000 for police protection, $1,300 street cleanup, $20,000 for graffiti cleanup, $2,400 to streets and traffic for festival set up, etc.
The riots added expenses to this sum at least $53,000 above the $190,000 mentioned above. Doors and windows of business places were broken, landscaping was destroyed and business was lost. In some cases, the affected businesses were even unable to open up later in the week because of the damage or loses they had incurred.
One speaker pointed out that the damages that had been inflicted were far greater than the $53,000 reported, since the week end riot had interfered with such activities as the rental of a property to a prospective client who decided the area was too dangerous as a viable place of business, the loss of sales by those businesses that were unable to be open during the weekend and the week days following the festival, the total loss of a business whose owners did not have insurance to cover the theft of goods from their small retail clothing store, etc.
The discussions by the City Council regarding the festival and the rioting last Tuesday evening, brought out many concerned individuals. The clear majority asked that the sale of alcohol be eliminated at the festival, that the festival be framed as an event centered on cultural and family themes and that it remains in downtown.
Rogelio Balderas of Santa Clara County’s Department of drug and alcohol services presented each of the Council members with a copy of a book, “Marketing Disease to Hispanics” and urged that they ban the sale of alcohol at this and other festivals. He pointed out that this cultural festival had become “one big party” and that a radio station, that he did not name had even promoted it with such remarks as “come on down and party!”
Cinco de Mayo parade announcer Fernando Zazueta attributed all of the festival problems on “gangs” and urged attention at eliminating gang involvement at the festival. He did not want anything else changed. He urged against any proposal to move the festival out of downtown and felt that the quantity of festival participants is not a problem.
Councilman David Pandori, whose District is the downtown area, said that he had received many complaints from downtown business people and residents who felt locked in their neighborhoods and fearful of the very large crowd. He said that many residents complained of people urinating in their front yards, congested neighborhood streets and of the parking in and around homes which constricted resident mobility.
For this writer, such concerns brought very sad memories. It was at such a festival in another community (out of state) where my father had a heart attack. Due to the crowd, an ambulance was not available. To make matters worse, the one bridge over the river to the hospital was also congested. His doctor felt that his chances of survival were compromised because of the long delay in reaching the hospital. That festival also was too large and not well planned.
Executive Director of the Teatro de Los Pobres, Felix Alvarez, reminded the Council of the many times he has come before them to request the end of liquor sales at Latino cultural festivals as well as a reduction in the quantity of liquor outlets in the City. Alvarez and his group decry the constant bombardment in Latino neighborhoods by the promotion of alcohol. The area at the comer of King and Alum Rock has one of the highest, if not the highest proliferation of liquor outlets anywhere in San Jose. The downtown area probably runs a close second.
One festival participant told La Oferta that she was shocked that after the millions and millions of dollars spent on the down town, it had become one “big and not refined nightclub.”
The police have also come under criticism for that Sunday’s events. Some blame them for not providing a well-planned crowd control plan. It will likely be rethought and improved.
Police information Officer John Carillo explained that reports of the police “herding” was likely caused when the festival participants chose to disregard a public announcement that the festival was over and the streets and sidewalks were to be cleared. He explained that the police would not press people to move if, in fact, the folks were obviously moving away.
The police have a very difficult responsibility. The city is very proud of the fact that it has only 1.52 police officers for every 1,000 in population. The average number of officers for a city similar to San Jose is at least 2.9 per thousand. John Carillo explained that 300 officers, the entire swing shift, was called to work the festival Sunday May 4th. In addition, their normal 10 hour day was increased by 2 hours. Some were even assigned to work 14
hour shifts. The work of the officers is made very difficult because of these very long hours and the need to often double upon duty time. It creates great stress, both on the job and in their home life. San Jose police officers are well trained, many have college degrees, numerous hours of specialized training and are also expected to be in top physical condition. All of this does not avert serious work related stress and at times poor judgment, City officials make promises every year indicating their intent to hire more officers in order to have a larger force, but it has not really happened. The new recruits barely improve the total number of officers. For example, this last academy will graduate 35 new officers but that number only adds 5 to the current total of 1,200 sworn officers.
At the Council meeting, Pandori wanted a clip of the melee to be shown but Mayor Hammer objected. She offered to show the video tape after the Council meeting and though there were a number of people who wanted to view the tape, that did not happen. Pandori expressed his objection to the fact that the Council would be making decisions without first viewing the film and allowing public discussion to follow. Mayor Hammer responded by sternly asserting that everyone seen the film on a recent newscast and furthermore that such a viewing would take at least two hours. Pandori answered that two hours were unnecessary since the incident of interest involved only ﬁfteen minutes. Even so, Mayor Hammer ignored his objections and the film was not shown even after the meeting was over.
A speaker, Carlos Chacon, spoke forcefully for a ban of liquor sales during the festival. He pointed out that alcohol is well known as a spark for unruly behavior. He brought laughter when he said that proponents of alcohol consumption claim, “I can sing better with a drink or I can dance better or make love better.” But he explained “if they need alcohol to perform better they are already in trouble.”
Kathy Napoli wasted no words in reminding the Council of the numerous appeals by herself and others to curtail the promotion of alcohol and their warnings that alcohol promotion, endangers the health and safety of the community.
George Shirakawa Jr. was adamant that the festival remains in downtown. He did not want it moved to his neighborhood nor to the East Side nor was he overly concerned about the sale of alcohol and felt that any restraint of drinking was purely the personal responsibility of those attending the festival. He did want the current liquor laws to be enforced adding “a crime is a crime.”
City attorney Joan Gallo told La Oferta that in crafting a plan for the festival she would hold the protection of civil rights to the highest standards. She indicated that it would be difficult to restrict the type of entertainment presented and who would be allowed or not allowed to sponsor a festival.
She did not mention the civil rights of those trapped in their homes because of a large city, sanctioned activity.
Pandori urged that the G.I. Forum be required to post bonds that would be available to cover all costs related to the Cinco de Mayo Festival and the 16 de Septiembre festival. This is necessary since it would be very difficult, to develop a plan that could curtail a repeat of last Sunday’s sad events.
David Rodriguez, President of the G.I. Forum, when asked if his group planned to drop the sponsorship of alcohol distributors, stated that, without such sponsorship, “not one festival in San Jose would be successful.”
A Downtown Business Association spokesperson reminded the Council that, when a similar disturbance occurred after another downtown festival, SOFA, the Council and the sponsors immediately set about to make changes that have since resulted in a smaller and more manageable festival. The new plan includes restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Some of the other changes they made were to impose a cover charge for entrance to the area of the festival. And, as well, the sale of alcohol is limited to shorter hours as are the hours of the festival.
Pandori urged that a P.C. attitude not be taken and that the Cinco de Mayo festival merits immediate effective modiﬁcations. He is urging that a plan be developed in the next months in order to test the new procedures at the September 16 (Mexican Independence Day) festival. This celebration, he pointed out, is much smaller and should give everyone an idea as to whether the changes will effectively avert a repeat of last Saturday’s melee. City manager Williams will be presenting a plan for public and Council scrutiny and discussion on August 19. The item will be heard at 7p.m. that evening.
If you have concerns, contact your Council person or the Mayor. Her telephone number is 277-4237. © La Oferta Newspaper.