Oct 27, 2023 - News

California legalizes lowrider culture decades after San Francisco

Two lowriders before the start of San Francisco's 2014 Carnaval Parade. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

More than 40 years after local lowriders in San Francisco successfully organized for the right to cruise, the state government has legalized the art form throughout California.

Driving the news: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 436 this month, authored by Assemblymember David Alvarez (D-San Diego), Axios' Andrew Keatts reports.

  • It removed lowrider restrictions from state code and preempted municipality bans, like those that have existed in San Jose and Fresno for decades.
  • The new law "changes that whole attitude and mentality that law enforcement has," Roberto Hernandez, founder of the San Francisco Low Rider Council, told Axios San Francisco.

Why it matters: Lowriders and legislators alike have described so-called cruising bans as racially motivated or based on false gang and crime-related stereotypes. According to lowriders like Hernandez, they have also resulted in racial discrimination and police brutality.

Threat level: In the 1970s, Hernandez said he and other lowriders were frequently brutalized by San Francisco police. He told Axios he was arrested 113 times and beaten three times by police.

  • "That was the beginning of my experience of racial discrimination," he said.

Flashback: In 1979, Hernandez and others successfully sued then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein and the city police department, alleging civil rights violations.

  • After a settlement, lowriders were legally permitted to cruise in the city.

The big picture: Lowriding grew out of Chicano and Chicana culture after World War II and has evolved into an art form and sport, Hernandez said.

  • "It's a cultural representation of Latinos," he said. "If you look at the painting of the cars, whether it be a mural or a straight paint job, you know, it's art."

Today, lowriders can be seen all throughout the city, at special events like King of Streets, Warriors' championship parades or just … cruising.

  • "So now we have three generations of low-riders," Hernandez said.

What we're watching: Even after statewide legalization, questions remain about how law enforcement will interact with lowriders.

  • Alberto López Pulido, who's creating a repository with the San Diego Lowrider Archival Project, told Axios San Diego he remains apprehensive.
  • There "has to be a trust and a relationship between the lowrider community and law enforcement."

Go deeper: Archiving San Diego's lowrider legacy


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios San Francisco.

More San Francisco stories