Los Angeles in a stew over taco trucks
A new law could levy fines and jail time for taco-truck proprietors who idle.
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But the new law is generating a backlash.Skip to next paragraph
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Calling themselves the "taco resistance," some 150 of the city's 14,000 licensed vendors have stated they will refuse to comply with the law starting this Thursday. They have hired a lawyer, Philip Greenwald, a veteran of 40 years of representing mobile industrial caterers.
"These trucks pay taxes, they are inspected by the health department, and there is no legitimate reason to be pushing them around," he says. "This is not a matter of unfair competition but restraint of fair trade."
Others worry that one of the city's most distinctive social and cultural features could fall by the wayside.
"Thousands of Angelenos ... have long gathered at the trucks, in many cases since childhood, for quick carnitas burritos or mouthwatering cemitas, ... fired meat and other gut-busting goodness," says a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times. "Call them what you will: roach coaches, loncheras, snack vans ... but taco trucks are a rich part of our region's heritage."
The Times and a leading political columnist in California, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee, have called for the county's supervisors to rescind the law as unfair to those at the lower end of the economic ladder.
On Wednesday, a grass-roots campaign (saveourtacotrucks.org), which has gathered thousands of signatures to petition a change in the law, is sponsoring "Taco Libre" – the chance to enjoy a last mobile entree before the new law takes effect.
"The whole taco truck culture in L.A. fills a void left by traditional restaurants," says Aaron Sonderleiter, whose website trumpets the rallying cry, "Carne asada is not a crime." He says the lower price of truck-vendored food (tacos for a buck, giant burritos for $2.50), longer hours of operation, and the outdoor venues create oases of neighborhood camaraderie, social interaction, and safety that are sorely needed in a city dominated by car travel, gang crime, and little pedestrianism and public transportation.
"This is about more than delicious and inexpensive food," adds his Web partner Chris Rutherford. "It's about people and community and neighborhoods."