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Oxnard's Sunday Cruisers Keep On Rolling : Cars: Young drivers carry on a tradition begun before they were born. Police say trouble has been minimal.


OXNARD — It is a scene played out every Sunday night on a mile-long strip of Saviers Road in Oxnard:

Bumper to bumper, convertibles with shiny spoke-rim wheels and customized mini-trucks with expensive stereo systems roll slowly up and down the street. The thundering sounds of thrumming mufflers, roaring engines and car stereos blasting out funky raps blend across the night air.

Low-rider sedans, so close to the ground they seem to hug the street, are packed with spirited, mostly Latino, teen-agers.

The sleek automobiles have been polished to a shiny splendor just for this evening. The object here is to see and be seen, to flirt and rap with the other regulars.

Whether on Saviers Road, A Street or Cooper Road, cruising is part of Oxnard's history. It has been around since before many of today's cruisers were even born.

However, in sharp contrast to cities such as Los Angeles and Hollywood, where cruising has been banned because of noise, traffic and gang violence, cruising in Oxnard has been nearly trouble-free, police said.

In fact, hard-core cruisers who get hassled by police in nearby cities are turning up on Saviers Road.

"The cruisers are very well-mannered," said Oxnard Police Sgt. Denny Phillips, who has overseen police patrols of Saviers Road for the last six months. "I've seen cruising here for years. We've got cruisers who come from as far as Santa Maria. I talked to one from Victorville."

Even the most vocal critics of cruising in Oxnard are not looking to end the weekly event--they just want to put some controls on the noise and litter.

"I don't want to close down cruising," said Jean Joneson, who has written to the police chief and complained to the City Council about noise generated by the cruisers. "I used to do this myself when I was younger."

Joneson, who lives on Iris Street about a block from the cruising strip, said the noise from the engines and car stereos routinely rattles her windows until late at night.

However, she said that when her two teen-age daughters are old enough, she will not prohibit them from cruising. "My kids are going to be old enough to cruise," she said. "But my kids are going to do it by the rules, and they are going to be in by 10."

Cruising--a California tradition that is both a social event and a celebration of the automobile--attracts 300 to 500 youngsters to Saviers every Sunday night. On holidays, such as the Fourth of July or Labor Day, the strip can attract twice that number.

Regulars on Saviers said people can cruise in any car, but the nicer, the shinier, the flashier the car, the greater the attention.

The cruisers begin to show up on Saviers about 9 p.m. At a speed usually not exceeding 15 m.p.h., the cars drive up Saviers, make a U-turn on Yucca Street, drive back down the road and cut another U-turn on Iris Street. They repeat the route until about 1 a.m., when most cruisers head home.

For William Ellis, Saviers is the place to show off his 1982 Toyota mini-truck. Ellis, a 20-year-old Camarillo resident who works at an automobile dealership, has spent about $5,000 on chrome, black and gold-flecked paint, upholstery and other customizing.

"You should see the looks I get when I'm not with a woman," he said, gesturing to his girlfriend in the front seat.

However, Ellis said his biggest expense is the 37 tickets he has received in the last three years. Most are "fix-it" tickets for his customized hydraulic system, which allows Ellis to jack up his truck at the flick of a switch.

Ellis said he usually removes the hydraulics to clear the citation from his driving record and then reinstalls the system for the next night of cruising. The process costs him $400 to $500 each time in fines and labor, he said.

"It's the only hobby I have, and I get hassled for it by the police," he said. "It really ticks me off."

When he came to Oxnard in 1963, Phillips said cruising took place Friday night on A Street. But the 1970s construction of the Plaza Mall narrowed A Street, he said, and forced cruisers to move to Cooper Road near La Colonia, a gritty, mostly Latino neighborhood in northeast Oxnard. Bottle-throwing and other violence on the street then drove the cruisers to Saviers Road, he said.

Although cruising on Saviers has been mostly trouble-free, Phillips said the Oxnard Police Department has reorganized patrol shifts so that at least five units are assigned to Saviers between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.

"They are very well-mannered and well-behaved. In the last six months, I've had no back talk," he said of the cruisers. "The regulars know the rules. They don't loiter, park or drink."

There has been almost no violence or drinking in the last six months, Phillips said. Most of the 70 to 80 tickets issued on Saviers in the last year have been for mechanical violations or stereos that are too loud.

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