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Latino Food Vendors Say They Are Singled Out in Crackdown

May 10, 1990|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — A group of Latino street vendors complained this week that police are singling them out in enforcing a 26-year-old law that regulates food vending trucks, in some cases sending them to jail.

Since the beginning of April, police have arrested about half a dozen people and issued more than 30 citations to vendors, some of whom said they have sold tacos and burritos from trucks in the same spots for up to two years without being cited.

Vendor Guillermo Ramirez said he spent 18 hours in jail before he posted bail. Jose Cruz Gomez Macedo said he spent 13 hours in jail, while Gabriel Lopez said he was locked up for 14 hours.

The vendors complained Monday at a press conference that police are enforcing the law selectively, mostly targeting Latino vendors along Anaheim Street near downtown. The eight vendors conceded that in many cases they had violated local laws but said the arrests were extreme.

Police said they are only responding to complaints about vendors operating illegally.

Police Sgt. James Sutton acknowledged that some vendors were arrested for "a relatively minor offense," violating a local ordinance that restricts sales to certain areas of the city. He said they were arrested after they continued to operate despite warnings and added that most carried no identification.

"You can't issue a citation to someone whose identification you don't know," Sutton said.

This is believed to be the first time Long Beach police have arrested street vendors for selling in restricted areas, he said.

Long Beach police stepped up enforcement after receiving many complaints, mostly from restaurant owners who said the food vending trucks were cutting into their business, said Patty Heintzelman, who oversees business licenses in Long Beach.

The Police Department's vice section responds to complaints of business license violations. "It's not as if we decided we have nothing better to do today, so 'Let's go out and find some vendors,' " Sutton said. "We don't have time to devote to that sort of thing."

Most of the vendors said they recently stopped selling in the city because of the increased enforcement.

Jose Luis Bucio, who owns a couple of food trucks and recently opened a restaurant on Pacific Avenue, said police should either arrest all violators or none.

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