In reversal, Santa Clara County allows car parades and celebrations amid pandemic

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Less than two weeks after explicitly banning car parades for the first time, Santa Clara County has reversed its stance to allow for drive-through celebrations and graduations, county officials said Monday.

The about-face is part of the new Bay Area-wide order that will allow curbside retail pickup and associated manufacturing, warehousing and logistics businesses to reopen this week, in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening guidance.

Starting Friday, the new order legally “allows people to participate in car parades, so long as they ride in cars only with members of their households and do not leave the cars during the parade or stop to gather at a fixed location,” the executive summary explains.

Even so, the allowance may not make much of a difference on the ground. San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia, who has criticized how the health orders’ numerous exemptions have made them difficult if not impossible to consistently enforce, previously said he would not enforce the ban.

Still, he welcomed the Monday news.

“The only thing worse than no regulations, are having regulations you can’t enforce,” Garcia said. “We weren’t going to enforce the car parade issue anyway, but I’m hopeful that now kids and graduating seniors can have something to remember.”

For weeks, people had lined up in parades alongside law enforcement agencies and local officials — including Garcia himself — to join in celebrations like the one honoring the original “Rosie the Riveter” on her 100th birthday in San Jose last month.

The county’s prior decision to ban the events in early May frustrated local police departments and school districts that had planned drive-through celebrations to pass out diplomas in lieu of a traditional graduation ceremony. It also diverged from other guidance in San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, for instance, where various graduation and celebration events went ahead as expected.

At the time, Santa Clara County health officials said that car parades were always intended to be illegal — but that concerns over large Cinco de Mayo gatherings spurred the outright ban.

Bikes and motorcycles remain forbidden from participating in parades.

“There are so many activities and things that go on in the life of a county of two million people, it’s simply impossible to have an FAQ or any other process that anticipates every question. We have tried to do our best,” said David Campos, deputy county executive, by way of explanation at the time.

Staff writers Robert Salonga and Maggie Angst contributed to this report.

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Track cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

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