Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Taco (Trucks) To Go

Taco (Trucks) To Go

Los Angeles is entering a cultural war, right up there with the sheepherders and cattle ranchers in the lore of the Olde West. The Great Taco Truck Battle may some day earn a spot in the Autry Museum of the West: The Turf Battle Between Vendors and Merchants. The City (actually the County in this case) built on the automobile is trying to shut down mobile purveyors of food.

Once upon a time there was the Good Humor Man/Truck and its kin - the trucks that cruised neighborhoods and recreational areas selling ice cream novelties to happy children. Today we have the Taco Truck, or as Los Angeles bureaucrats call it, a Mobile Food Preparation Unit (MFPU). That’s an unappetizing mouthful!

Taco trucks are a piece of our culture. Diverse cities such as Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and now New Orleans (not yet though to the point of the Lucky Dog) love them.

But not the Councilors of Los Angeles County.

Thousands of these trucks provide meals daily to the population, and not just to Latinos. Patrons pull up plastic chairs, soak up the sun, eat slowly, drink sangrias, converse, and relax. It’s a multi-cultural experience. Bloggers rate the taco trucks in many communities.

The food can be very good as well as inexpensive.

The current regulations require them to move after 30 minutes at a location or face a fine of $60. The current ordinance is unenforced and the trucks often stay all day in one spot. The new ordinance, effective May 15, requires then to move after an hour or face a potential misdemeanor fine of $1000 and up to six months in jail.

What’s the problem?

Is it because restaurateurs, with their high overall and fixed investments, complain that these vendors can undercut them in price? That’s competition! Denver reconciled the two interests by barring the trucks from opening up within 100 yards of a restaurant. LA simply wants to indirectly shut most of them down in a Machiavellian way.

Is it because many of the operators lack a permit? So do many tag sales!

Is it because many of the operators are undocumented immigrants? If that’s the case, we need to shut down the parking lots of Home Depot, most gardeners, roofers, contractors, cleaning services, and nanny’s, and check the ID’s of day laborers.

Is it because they constitute an aesthetic nuisance? Several are works of art, right up there with low riders. They don’t cruise Beverly Hills, Bel Air or Brentwood because that’s not their market.

Check out Facebook and Slogans include “The revolution will be served on a paper plate,” and “Viva los taco trucks!” (not quite up there with Viva Zapata) LA currently celebrates Cinco de Mayo. Soon there will be taco truck night.

4,000 of these trucks are registered with the County, but estimates of up to 28,000 more are unregistered. The sheer numbers demonstrate a need in the community for these purveyors.

Incidentally, they’ve retained a lawyer at $400/hour.

Five decades ago Southern California gave birth to MacDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Carl’s, Jr., and In and Out Burgers, not to mention Fatburgers. The Taco Trucks are today’s fast food restaurants: quick, tasty, inexpensive food appealing to a diverse, mobile population.

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