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East L.A. taco truck owners say they'll stay put

April 16, 2008|Jean-Paul Renaud | Times Staff Writer

Taco truck owners vowed to ignore a law passed by Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday making it a misdemeanor crime -- punishable by fines and jail -- to stay parked in one place for more than an hour.

"They can try to move us, but we're not going to go," said Aleida De La Cruz, whose taco truck has been a family business for 20 years. "What are they going to do, take us all to jail?"

Supervisors unanimously agreed to pass the law after business owners, particularly in East Los Angeles, complained that taco trucks were keeping brick-and-mortar restaurants from flourishing by drawing away customers.

"We have received many complaints from restaurant owners who say it is very hard to do business after 6 p.m. because catering trucks park very near restaurants," said Louis Herrera, president of the Greater East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. "Many restaurants are forced to close their doors because they cannot compete with a catering truck's prices."

Restaurant owners complained that the costs of operating a taco truck are minimal compared with the numerous bills that stationary businesses have to pay.

"It's unfair competition," Herrera said.

Taco trucks have long been part of the cultural fabric of East L.A. And the owners of the restaurants on wheels argue that their presence fills a need that conventional eateries have failed to meet: good food at low prices.

They say they're not about to abandon their customers.

"I don't think it's a crime to sell tacos for a cheaper price than the established business," truck owner Eugenio Sanchez told supervisors. "And the people are happy to see us because they say, 'Finally, we have someone selling tacos.' "

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents East L.A., proposed the law in response to the "little war" between the anchored restaurants and the mobile ones.

"It's tough for these businesses to get along," she said.

For years, county law has required that taco trucks stay in one spot no more than 30 minutes. But the fines were so minor -- a $60 ticket -- that truck owners didn't budge, treating the citations as a cost of doing business.

Now, trucks will be allowed to stay put for an hour; but if they don't move after that, they will face a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

Molina said it is now up to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the district attorney to enforce the law. The severity of the punishments will be at the discretion of law enforcement, she said.

"To make a misdemeanor out of the sale of foods and beverages is low," said attorney Philip C. Greenwald, who represents taco truck owners. "That's not fair. This is parking, after all. They're not selling porno, they're not selling drugs. This is food and beverages."

Merchants in East L.A. say the law is long overdue in an area striving to develop a strong business community.

"I don't want to put anybody out of business, but it's the fairness of it all," said Tony DeMarco, vice president of the Whittier Boulevard Merchants Assn. "It's a big victory for the merchants, and it's going to clean up the area."

But taco truck owners say the rule is going to unravel their lives.

"If I lose my catering truck, I lose my home, my family, what can I do?" Cedric Reyes told supervisors. "The state will support me? There's no way."

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jp.renaud@latimes.com

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