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Cracks down on taco trucks, mobile vendors in Lathrop

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POSTED September 10, 2009 2:31 a.m.
LATHROP – The city of Lathrop is about to join the growing number of municipalities throughout California and in at least three states that are cracking down on mobile vendors in the name of safety and fairness.

Introduced recently as part of the municipal ordinance are regulations that would govern these mobile businesses – taco trucks, pedal-pushing popsicle vendors, and ice cream trucks - to name the more popular ones.

The purpose of these new regulations is to put in place minimum requirements of cleanliness, quality, safety and security on these small itinerant businesses, while at the same time putting them on equal financial footing with other brick and mortar commercial establishments who have to jump legal and financial hoops before they can open their doors to customers.

“We’ve had complaints about noise, operating on dirt lots, or operating by the freeway where there’s excessive traffic coming out of the new school. And we’ve had complaints about operating certain hours at night within residential districts,” Avilla said.

But not necessarily from the business sector, he said. However, the introduction of this new law will address unfair business practice issues where everybody would have to follow the same regulations and restrictions, he explained.

It also would make life easier for code enforcement by putting the law on their side to pursue illegal business operations.

Many mobile vendors already licensed
For the most part, said Avilla, many of the vendors plying their food wares around the city today are already licensed. There are, actually, 14 of them that are licensed, he said.

“I’ve gone around and counted seven taco trucks and ice cream trucks that were parked. They move around all the time, but I picked out three of them in one day.”

Many of these vendors who will come within the perimeters of the city come to City Hall and ask about business licenses.

“They let us know what they are doing; they are happy to abide by (the law),” Avilla said.

Two people even called him anonymously to thank him for putting together the new regulations. And, the night he presented his report to the council, he said, “two people came to me that do run taco trucks and said they are willing and happy to follow (city) regulations.”

From their experience at City Hall, Avilla said, people who want to establish these types of mobile businesses come in to ask about a business license.

“They let us know what they are doing and they are happy to abide by (the city’s ordinance),” he said.

In previous council discussions about setting regulations for these movable type of businesses, city leaders and other residents have expressed concerns about checking the backgrounds of these operators to make sure they are not high-risk sex offenders or have criminal backgrounds.

Violations to the provisions of the new law could be considered as misdemeanors subject to fines of up to $1,000 or six months in jail or both. The city attorney also could commute the violation into an infraction which would be punishable by up to $500 in fines for each offense.

Before drafting the ordinance relating to moving vendors, Avilla said they looked at what other cities are doing such as Modesto, Stockton, Tracy, Ripon, Escalon, Manteca and Lodi where “they passed one (ordinance) last year.

“We looked at those. The (San Joaquin) county has their own; Manteca does not have one like this. We try to use what’s best for everyone.”

Lathrop is not alone in its efforts to regulate mobile businesses. There are about a dozen cities in California alone that are cracking down on these types of businesses particularly taco trucks. In Salinas, for example, Mexican-restaurant owners are leading the charge in trying to ban taco trucks and other food-catering mobile businesses all together because they are a threat to their profit operations.

Santa Rosa, San Francisco and the city of Gardena in Southern California are debating restrictions to these iconic Mexican businesses as well. Other cities in other states like Arizona, Oregon and Tennessee are caught up in the same debate too.

The proposed new ordinance governing taco trucks and other mobile vendors in Lathrop will go another round before the council members for final adoption.
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