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Crowded Vancouver car cruise generates concerns

The spontaneous convergence of cars and crowds along Vancouver’s Main Street on Friday has city officials worried that cruising may make a comeback as residents grow restless under COVID-19 stay-home orders.

An 18-year-old who said he just wanted to support Main Street businesses posted an invitation on Facebook May 13 to cruise on May 15. He expected maybe 20 cars.

An estimated 1,000 cars showed up, Assistant Police Chief Jeff Mori told Vancouver City Council members who raised concerns at their Monday meeting. Officers patrolled the scene, but didn’t write any tickets or make any arrests, he said.

“It didn’t seem where they were at the time that they were being bumped into by people,” Mori said. “The aftereffects were visible to everybody. There was leftover garbage. There were things that people just didn’t like seeing.”

The governor’s COVID-19 orders closing businesses and barring gatherings are “primarily public health directives,” and although they carry the force of law, agencies still haven’t sorted out who should take the lead on enforcement, City Manager Eric Holmes said. Local government has sought to raise awareness about the COVID-19 safety measures and gain voluntary compliance, Holmes said.

As the weather gets warmer and more people gather outside, city officials will have to develop a strategy for responding, Holmes said.

Cars have become a vehicle for connection since Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home orders went into effect in March. For example, teachers have invited firetrucks to join caravans circling the neighborhoods surrounding their schools.

The Slo Poks recently organized a parade of 40 classic cars waving American flags to drive by a terminally ill veteran’s house, said Michael Finn, the car club’s vice president.

“We also did one for a special-needs kid turning 15, honking and waving and looping around the neighborhood a couple of times,” he said.

Finn had begun to organize his club to show support for downtown businesses about three weeks ago, but canceled for fear that it would get out of hand.

He’s friends with Neil Brislawn Jr., the 18-year-old who instigated Friday’s cruise.

“He is a sweetheart of a kid. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” Finn said. “Junior’s deal blew up Friday night because of social media. … Everybody is kind of itching to get out and do something. A majority of people wanted to go show support.”

Cruising Main Street was a local weekend pastime in the 1950s, ’60 and ’70s. Clogged roads, fights and public urination eventually led police to drive cruising out of downtown.

In 2009, car enthusiasts revived cruising for one night a year with permits from the city. Trap Door Brewing owner Bryan Shull took over organizing that annual event, which was renamed Cruise the Couve in 2017. It attracts some 15,000 to 20,000 people to Main Street.

Portable restrooms, garbage cleanup, policing and other infrastructure for the event costs $25,000, Shull said.

Without that infrastructure, things would quickly turn messy, Shull said.

Cruise the Couve, normally the third Saturday in July, has been canceled this year due to the pandemic, as has the annual Uptown Village Show and Shine hosted by Slo Poks in August. Shull and Finn suspect cars will show up anyway.

Although Main Street quieted down by about 11 p.m. Friday, unruliness erupted before then. Trap Door sells cans of beer to-go. People buying beer tried to drink it on the premises, Shull said, so Trap Door employees had to explain that isn’t allowed under the governor’s orders and usher them out.

“Nobody was wearing masks,” Shull said. “I think we probably picked up a few hundred dollars (in sales), nothing remarkable.”

Some restaurants and bars complained of vandalism and littering, while others appreciated the brisk business.

Uptown Barrel Room used social media to encourage people to show up on Friday and thanked them the next day.

Clark County Public Health has followed up with Main Street restaurants to ensure they know they are responsible for monitoring and enforcing physical distancing among customers and staff, spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong said in an email in response to The Columbian.

“Public Health appreciates the efforts of the vast majority of the community to continue physical distancing efforts and to stay home except for essential trips,” Armstrong said. “We hope people will continue to follow the guidance outlined by the governor as we move forward and work toward safely reopening our community.”

Inslee announced Tuesday that Clark County may soon be able to reopen restaurants at 50 percent capacity.



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