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Mobile vendors pushing for more parking time
Fidencio Campos, right, long-time owner of Lathrop’s LaBamba Mexican Restaurant sits at one of his tables in the nearly empty dining room at lunchtime. Campos said, “On the computer we are voted the best Mexican restaurant in town, but where are all the people?” - photo by HIME ROMERO
LATHROP – Not many brick-and-mortar restaurant owners in Lathrop are happy about having mobile dining options moving in on their turf.

After almost a dozen people showed up supporting Lathrop restaurants at the council meeting last week, the council – who also heard from those representing the mobile food vending trucks – decided to give both sides a month to talk about a fair compromise that will work for both sides.

Plans are in the works to have both groups meet at the Lathrop Chamber of Commerce office to discuss how best to accommodate the restaurateurs who have invested large amounts of money into their permanent locations and the taco trucks that have a dedicated and steady clientele. The chamber is simply providing the space, noted Lathrop chamber leader Mary Kennedy-Bracken, in the hopes the two sides can work something out. She emphasized the Lathrop District Chamber of Commerce is not in any way arbitrating or moderating the meetings.

Brick-and-mortar restaurant owners want to see something done about the mobile vendors that they believe is unfairly taking away business by not being held to the same standards. One of those items is reducing the time a taco truck - or similar vendor - can stay on one spot.

Taco trucks can linger in one spot in a commercial district in Lathrop for up to three hours but in Manteca and Ripon they can’t stay longer than 10 minutes.

Lathrop’s ordinance is similar to ones adopted in Stockton and Lodi, while Manteca, Tracy and Ripon only allow the trucks to remain parked in any one area for 10 minutes.

While things remained civil at the council meeting, one restaurant manager – who asked that his name not be used– doesn’t feel that the playing field is equal between the two enterprises.

“When we come to town we put a lot of money up to renovate and open our businesses,” he said. “We pay taxes and we’re a part of the community. Not to take anything away from the taco trucks, but it’s only fair that we get a chance to serve our customers without having to worry about them going to a place that doesn’t have to adhere to the same standards that we did.”

The issue – which the council has been batting around for several years without coming to a concrete resolution – came up again in December when a mobile vendor put a request in to the city to have some of the time constraints currently on the books lifted so they could operate longer in certain zones. The mobile vendor wants to extend the time allotted for the units to set-up and serve their wares. The time limit is now 30 minutes in residential areas, three hours in commercial areas, and 23 hours in industrial areas.

That raised the ire of some Lathrop’s restaurant owners, who made it a point to voice their grievances before the council.

“We have all kinds of bills to take care of that taco trucks don’t,” said Taqueria Vallarta owner Vincent Padilla. “It took me months to put everything together to get my business started. I could have just bought a taco truck, or two, instead of doing what I did.”

While Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos –who himself has opened restaurants in the South County – voiced his displeasure with waiting for both sides to work together and showed his support for the brick-and-mortar businesses that operate legally within the community, the rest of the council voted for the month-long negotiation process to reach an amicable conclusion.

The council will revisit the issue when they meet on Monday, April 4.

“I just really hope that they don’t end up going away,” said taco truck enthusiast Ignacio Calderon. “This is a great place to eat when I get off of work, and it’s cheaper and faster than sitting down in a restaurant.”

The fact it is cheaper is the point the restaurant owners make noting taco trucks have lower standards imposed by the while they have to do a wide variety of things that drive costs up to their customers.