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Taco trucks can stay parked

Judge overturns L.A. County's 1-hour limit on how long they can remain in one place. An appeal is expected.

August 28, 2008|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

Taco trucks are back in full force -- at least for now.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Wednesday overturned a controversial ordinance passed in April by county supervisors that made it a misdemeanor in unincorporated parts of the county to park a taco truck in one spot for more than an hour.

The language of the ordinance, Judge Dennis A. Aichroth said, was "vague" and therefore "unconstitutional" in its description of how quickly a vendor could return to an area where the truck was previously parked. Aichroth said it also violated the vehicle code because county supervisors had not properly established that it was written in the interest of public safety.

The attorney who won the case on behalf of Margarita Garcia, a ticketed taco vendor whose violation was dismissed by Aichroth, said he expected that the county would try to rewrite the law. "It'll probably be just as miserable as the one they just wrote," said Philip C. Greenwald, who represents a newly formed association of catering truck operators. "They won't win."

The deputy district attorney who tried the case against Garcia was unavailable for comment, but a spokeswoman for Supervisor Gloria Molina, the ordinance's author, said the fight was not over.

"We knew from the start," spokeswoman Roxanne Marquez said, "that this case would go to court. We will appeal and we expect to win."

Marquez rejected claims by opponents that the ordinance unfairly targeted small vendors in favor of brick-and-mortar businesses and developers who make larger political donations.

"We are coming down on the side of our residents who deserve a good quality of life," she said, noting that Molina was undaunted by criticism of the ordinance.

That outcry included a petition that collected more than 9,000 signatures. It was posted on the Internet by two Highland Park taco lovers at www.saveourtacotrucks.org.

The law was passed unanimously by supervisors after restaurateurs complained that taco trucks parking on the streets near their businesses were drawing away customers and forcing some of them to the brink of bankruptcy. Although the ordinance affected only unincorporated sections of the county, not the city of Los Angeles itself, the area under the law's domain included the taco truck's heartland: East L.A.

Before the ordinance was adopted, an existing regulation called for fining vendors as much as $60 for staying in one place more than 30 minutes, but many said it was seldom enforced. For those who were ticketed, many said the fines were an acceptable cost of doing business.

The new ordinance, however, carried penalties up to $1,000 and six months in jail and caused many vendors to flee or work under the threat of severe punishment.

"I've been ticketed twice," Maria Ulloa said in Spanish. She has operated a taco truck in East L.A. for eight months. "The police said I was going to be going to jail. Now, I think not."

Alejandro Valdovinos Sanchez, whose wife, Margarita Garcia, was the test case, said his family was elated by the judge's decision. "We are trying to make a living for our family with the work that we have," he said in Spanish.

Despite the judge's decision, Garcia and the rest of the county's 14,000 registered taco trucks would continue to fall under other county rules. Catering trucks must pass a number of health inspections before they are allowed to operate, and must be parked within 200 feet of a bathroom and be equipped with soap, towels and hot water. Owners must also prove they have access to a facility where they can wash and store their vehicles.

"The vendors have been through a lot," Greenwald said.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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