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Mobile food vendors told to leave Miracle Mile

Some lunch trucks are cited for minor violations. LAPD officials say the crackdown was part of an effort to clear the area of illegal vendors.

August 24, 2009|Ann M. Simmons

For the last two months, Green Truck mobile catering services would park on Wilshire Boulevard along Los Angeles' Miracle Mile and serve handmade organic fare to the neighborhood's lunch crowd.

"It was wonderful," said Bobby Allen, general manger of the Culver City-based company. "We had a line of people every day."

But last week, the lines disappeared after police officers swooped in and forced Green Truck and several other mobile food vendors parked in the mid-Wilshire area to move on.

Some drivers said they were cited for minimal violations such as parking too close to the curb, or parking too far away. Others said they were ordered to pack up and leave.

"If they are embarking on a campaign of targeting companies that they normally wouldn't . . . companies that pay taxes, and are trying to make money, that doesn't make sense to me," Allen said. "That makes me angry."

Police officials said the crackdown Wednesday was part of a one-day operation to clear the area of illegal vendors.

"They don't have city and health department permits," said Lt. Dan Hudson, watch commander at the Los Angeles Police Department Wilshire Division. "Restaurants complain because the lunch trucks are taking their business, and they don't have [proper] permits."

Citations were issued for "illegal vending," Hudson said.

Sumant Pardal said the truck he leases to operate India Jones food catering was impounded after police told him that "businesses don't want you guys here."

Pardal, who said he recently moved from Arizona and had been operating India Jones for a little more than a week, said he was cited for failing to have a California driver's license and vehicle tags.

"They were trying to find any reason to cite me," said Pardal, who said he's been a chef for more than three decades.

It was unclear which businesses had complained about the presence of the Wilshire lunch trucks, which Allen said included Kogi BBQ and Barbie's Q. Patricio Palacios, manager of Baja Fresh in the 5700 block of Wilshire, said he had no complaints because his business was thriving despite the presence of mobile food vendors.

"If you come here now, you will see there's no free table," Palacios said.

Allen said his business had been "hurt financially" since being told to leave Wilshire.

He estimated that his company had been making between $800 and $1,000 a day, and now revenue was down by at least 70%.

Pardal, of India Jones, said having the truck impounded cost him at least $3,000, which included the fee to get it back, the wasted lease days for the vehicle and some spoiled food.

The vendors said they are seeking guidance from Asociacion de Loncheros La Familia Unida de California, an advocacy group for lunch truck operators.

Erin Glenn, Loncheros' chief executive officer, said it was not uncommon for traditional taco truck owners to face complaints from restaurateurs, but this was the first case she had confronted involving the "new designer trucks."

A similar issue arose in June when a court commissioner threw out a Los Angeles law that prohibited taco truck owners from parking in the same spot in a residential neighborhood for more than half an hour, or in a commercial area for more than an hour. A similar Los Angeles County ordinance was overturned last year.

Mobile food vendors have become increasing popular on the streets of Los Angeles, with gourmet offerings as plentiful as the cheap burgers and tacos. Even chain fast-food restaurants are adding food trucks to their business plan.

Allen said he and other vendors have since found stopping spots in other areas, but he lamented having to forsake mid-Wilshire.

"People were really excited about the lunch options," Allen said. "They seemed really happy with the choices."

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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