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Jun 12, 2007 11:19 AM

Taco Truck Thugs - squashing the little guy by outlawing street food

What if you couldn't by a hot dog or lemon ice from a NY street vendor? No street hawkers in Asia? No street eats in Latin America ...etc, etc?

The city of Salinas is trying to ban taco trucks. This trend is also happening in other cities in the US.

If the food wasn't tasty and serving a purpose, street food wouldn't exist. There would be no reason for laws if no one was making money. Isn't that the whole point to free enterprise?

There is a great article today on KQED's Bay Area Bites blog about this situation that mentions Chowhound and Melanie Wong's Salinas Street Food report. At the end of the article there is a link to a map of the Salinas Street Food that has a summery of what those trucks make best and links back to Melanie's original reports and a recent Salinas Taco Truck crawl by a dozen Chowhounds ... I'm counting the chihuahua.

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  1. What a shame! I can sadly say they never even allowed street vendors in our little city of Naples, FL--I don't live in the city limits but I believe the prevailing notion is that the vendors would be an "eyesore." Harumph! What a bunch of bull. Hopefully, the working folks in Salinas will rise up.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Val

      Over 800 people signed a petition to support the mobile vendors.

      It is my understanding that moved the politicians to draft the upcoming proposal to place even further restrictions on the vendors. I have a great line (to me) that I will squelch out of respect for the focus of Chowhound on food and not politics.

      From a strictly food point of view, these vendors provide food not found elsewhere ... the food from the little-known towns and regions. The food that a mainstream restaurant ... big or small ... won't put on the menu because of the financial risk.

      In California, the brick and morter Mexican restaurants have been carefully coached. Serve dishes the gringos like and will buy..

      The street vendors haven't learned those rules and most of the vendors have customers who want the regional specialties ... vuelve a la vida, Acambaro-style al pastor, a beef and tripe campechana with a fascinating regional connection, etc, etc, etc. Even more common items like champurrado or elote are rarely available in restaurants.

      Through local taco trucks I've eaten dishes from all over Mexico, most in the $2 price range. It has been a culinary education that I would not have even been able to dream up on my own, no matter how many books I read. Most of this food isn't in the cookbooks anyway. It is not important enough.

      I have eaten better. I've learned alot ... about food, about Latin America, about the people. It is hard to hate someone when you get to know them and share thier food.

      1. re: Val

        My father-in-law lives in Naples (Benita Springs actually), and he would definetly be against street vendors as they would probably "bring down property values".

        A lot of ethnic restaurants get started with their trucks and streetside carts and save up money to cover the astronomical costs of setting up a restaurant. The Taco trucks have just become part of the Bay Area landscape.

        1. re: Fussy Foodie

          Gently pointing out: I fail to see how a truck selling tacos hurts anyone's property values...they are not permanent and they would only operate on business district streets where folks are walking around at lunchtime or after work or maybe even at the beaches...imagine that! As it stands now, there aren't any concession stands to speak of at the beaches here. To me, everyone would benefit by being able to buy an inexpensive lunch or snack from a truck vendor; well, everyone except for the overpriced restaurants on 5th Avenue--bingo!

          1. re: Val

            I meant it sarcastically, poking fun at how stuck up my F-I-L is and how so many people in southwest Florida (well... at least the ones I met) are so concerned with property values. I guess sarcasm isn't that easy to pick up in writing.

            I fully support food trucks. They offer a nice, cheap alternative to the traditional restaurant, and give talented (usually ethnic) cooks with little means a chance to get started in the business.

            1. re: Fussy Foodie

              It's true - that is the rationale given by the me-firsters. Of course, these are the same people who rail against low-cost housing in their community: they want service people (mostly latin housekeepers, gardeners, nannies, landscapers, etc) but they don't want "those people" to live near them - and they certainly don't want to be exposed to their food or culture. It's too bad really. Gated communities and homogenous suburbs have done more to reinforce and expand this growing American isolationism and fear of the other than anything else.

              Taking the taco trucks away is just another way to whitewash cities and make them more appealing to middle- and upper-class people and further marginalize working class people and immigrants of all income levels.

              1. re: hewn

                Let me add that they are the first ones to complain about the price of thier meals wherever and whenever they eat, unless of course they get a senior discount.

                1. re: hewn

                  applause, applause for Hewn's and Jim's comments.


          here's the thread on the taco crawl in Salinas— it's the direct connection, the shared smiles, the good food that draws me back to taco trucks.
          —it's as close as I can get to sitting at someone's kitchen table... you'd understand if you'd been standing next to me at Julio Valdez's cart, East Market Street at Ivy Street in Salinas...chowing on grilled corn on the cob with cotilla cheese and cayenne... the bacon wrapped Mexican hot dog with mayo and cotilla or con todo... the sweet tamals of corn or pina with raisins...champurrado — Senor Valdez remembers our "la jefa" as a regular!

          1. What a shame. Somehow it seems motivated by more then just economics. If John Steinbeck were alive today, I wonder what he'd say about the situation.

            12 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              Ironically most of these vendors are located within a few blocks of the Steinbeck Museum ... ironic, eh? I wonder if the museum has a cafe and what it serves?

              1. re: rworange

                I suspect that if enough people show up at a city council meeting (which I assume would be the place to discuss this before it's enacted) and request time to speak, at least the voices will be heard. It's worth a try.

                1. re: Val

                  They did already. This is a second or third go around. Many of the vendors are unaware of the action and the first meeting was during the winter when many of these trucks close for the rainy winter months or are following field workers in other parts of the country. Some of these vendors have been in business for over a decade.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Sounds like a real ambush job to me, Something sneaky cooked up by existing restaurants most likely. What cowards, try competing on quality and price for once!

                    1. re: majhordan

                      Since no one else is going to say it...seems like there's a good bit of xenophobia and class-ism (to use neutral terms) going on to call for an outright ban of all trucks. Sort of reminds me of Monterey Park back in the last '80s. It's really too bad Steinbeck isn't still around because he'd rip all the standard bearers new ones.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Given the demographiscs of Salinas, I'm not sure the xenophobia is a big part of it. As far as classism, there probably is some of the "we were here first" thinking going on.

                        Without knowing the makeup of the group backing the ordinance I'd find it hard to really speculate.

                        1. re: Scrapironchef

                          I am extremely familiar with the demographics of the area, and I would suspect that Scrapironchef is closer to the target: it's a class issue, not necessarily a race issue (although ethnicity comes into it).

                          There's this false class consciousness among middle-class and wealthy Latino citizens that they will be more readily accepted into prevailing white American culture if they reject the more "primitive" trappings of their culture. It's too bad, really. And history shows us that it's only the first and second generation who feel this way: third generation immigrants are much more likely to want to regain those symbols of their culture.

                          Save the taco trucks!

                2. re: rworange

                  Well Salinas is ironic, as least relating to Steinbeck. The city and region absolutely hated him while he was alive and for his muck raking...probably would have tarred and feathered him. Of course now they have a museum it's all good...except it seems their up to their old tricks.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Yes, Steinbeck was much reviled during his lifetime. He would never let the city name anything after him while he was alive.

                    The Steinbeck center had a couple cafes. I liked the last one, Chicken Scratch Flats, but it has closed due to insufficient night time business.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      ML8000/MelanieWong: If John Steinbeck could ...

                      A letter from John Steinbeck to the Salinas Californian newspaper in response to the suggestion in naming a school after him.

                      "...So far only my first name has been given to an institution.
                      Perhaps it is well to inspect honors in the light of reason lest the footprints in the concrete disclose a bunion. Do the proposers of this naming wish to subject my name to the unborn generations of young Salinians? Think of the millions to whom the name Horse Mann is a dirty word.
                      But the danger of the situation is not only aimed at me. Consider, if you will, the disastrous result if some innocent and talented student should look into my own scholastic record, seeking perhaps for inspiration. Why his whole ambition might crash in flames.
                      In view of these sober afterthoughts, and being still shaken by the compliment implied, I hope the Board of Trustees will think very carefully before taking this irrevocable step.
                      If the city of my birth should wish to perpetuate my name clearly but harmlessly, let it name a bowling alley after me or a dog track or even a medium price, low-church brothel
                      --but a school--!"
                      In humble appreciation.
                      John Stenbeck

                      Peace Pakkai

                  2. re: rworange

                    rw sez - Ironically most of these vendors are located within a few blocks of the Steinbeck Museum ... ironic, eh? I wonder if the museum has a cafe and what it serves?

                    Per Melanie - The Steinbeck center had a couple cafes. I liked the last one, Chicken Scratch Flats, but it has closed due to insufficient night time business.

                    I'm sure there is no connection.

                    1. re: Scrapironchef

                      The closest truck to the Steinbeck Center that I've been able to find is more than a mile away. There are several long-established restaurants on the same block and more in a two-block radius that the cafe competes with. The last operator was quoted as saying that night time business from the new movie theatre complex and parking structure on the same block didn't materialize as expected.

                  1. As big a fan as I am of (some) taco trucks, they are not all perfect and holy bastions of free enterprise.

                    Many skirt local zoning laws because of their "mobile" status. They can provide unrealistic competition to local businesses that have paid their dues. They are intrinsically harder to regulate than fixed locations. How many do you think accurately report and pay the sales taxes due to local communities?

                    I'm not in favor of banning them, but some balance has to be struck between transients and businesses that are located in the community. How many of us could survive if someone had the right to park in front of our businesses and provide the same goods and services without the overhead?

                    20 Replies
                    1. re: Scrapironchef

                      I see that you are in favor of government by special interests. Chasing away the taco trucks will diminish the quality of Salinas in my opinion. Let's make the whole city a homogenized processed place with only high end sit down restaurants, shall we?

                      That benefits only a few restaurant owners at the expense of the population who will have a lot less choice about where to eat out.

                      1. re: majhordan

                        Not what I said, re read my post and try not to put words in my mouth.

                      2. re: Scrapironchef

                        I frequent a few taco trucks in LA. I'm not saying they should be banned, but there have to be limitations and regulations. I hate when they occupy metered parking spaces in downtown LA for free. I'm against street vendors who have no permits (health or business) and sell food on street corners, in shopping centers and in our city parks.

                        I know I'd be fuming if I were a restaurant owner and these trucks were parked in front of my business competing unfairly . Legitimate brick & mortar business owners have a right to protect their turf.

                        Not living in Salinas I can only believe that maybe there are too many of those trucks which have an economic effect on legitimate brick and mortar business and possibly an eyesore to the community. I'm sure the result will be a limitation on the number of permits issued and not an all out ban.

                        1. re: monku

                          If people got together to do true problem solving... perhaps someone would think to create an indoor mercado with formal food stalls like the one in Berkeley... and THEN limit the # of trucks to a number that would still allow mobile workers a way to get a decent hot meal.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            There's an indoor taco truck market in Berkeley!!? That would be great, but I
                            think you're talking about the Emeryville Public Market? That's an interesting
                            case. It was essentially the vision of one guy on the city council who pushed it
                            through. It was about the same time as the Berkeley Bowl was looking
                            to expand out of their old bowling alley location and others were trying to get
                            them in there. But something like that takes a lot of solid work by someone
                            determined and in a position to make it happen. Does Salinas have that person?

                            Here's an interesting if long and somewhat inconclusive paper about Mexico
                            City's attempt 15 years ago to move their street vendors off the street into
                            newly constructed markets. it was apparently not a tremendous success, was
                            done for entirely orthogonal political reasons, and may not have any applicability
                            to the Salias question at all ...


                            1. re: Scrapironchef

                              One vendor I spoke with said he had tried to join SUBA, but vendors are not allowed to be members. There is a shortage of space in the Alisal district, which was acknowledged as one of challenges of transitioning in SUBA's letter of Dec. 11, 2006, that was handed out at the January hearing. I've checked the listings and driven around the area extensively and there are no vacancies for small properties.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Wonderful - talk about representative governmetn! This group won't even LET the minority group become members. That's really disgusting.

                                1. re: hewn

                                  Geez, what a bunch of elitist b*stards. I bet their board of directors is a bunch of fat cat businessmen running huge conglomerates and franchise steamroller corporations!

                                  Let's find out who they are then we can hate them righteously!


                                  1. re: Scrapironchef

                                    I don't know about all those other adjectives you're trying to put in people's mouths, but "elitist" sounds appropriate for a business association that won't let other legitimate business owners join because their businesses don't meet their standards.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Do we know that is why they were't allowed to join? It looks like some pretty small businesses are on the BoD. As much as I respect Melanie, we don't know both sides.

                                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                                        I see. You don't know, but you're questioning someone who does.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          Actually I dropped them an email to find out what the requirements are.

                                          Some business groups that qualify for public funding, which this one may as they are focused on redevelopment, may be restricted from having members whose businesses are based outside the development zone. That is usually determined by the address on the business license. Let's not rush to judgement on the basis of one conversation Melanie had.

                                          I'll post my response from SUBA when I get it.

                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                  My post was removed, but I HIGHLY recommend reading that link about the Mexico City vendors. It mirrors everything said by the SUBA and shows why that didn't work.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    It's also Mexico and one of the most corrupt government structures on the planet. Just because they couldn't change things doesn't mean there weren't problems.

                                    1. re: Scrapironchef

                                      Wow. Please back up your facts. Have you been to Mexico other than briefly as a tourist?

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Believe it or not I have friends from there, I rely on there experience as a guide as well as media reports from multiple sources.

                                    1. re: Scrapironchef

                                      According to the source, only brick and mortar businesses are allowed, not street vendors. I have not verified this with SUBA.

                              2. re: monku

                                In the situations you describe, what needs to be done is for existing laws and regulations (parking, food permits, etc.) to be enforced. People who are doing business illegally will continue to do business; only those people who are trying to do business legitimately (and if they have a permit, they're as legitimate as any other business) are hurt by a ban.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Problem in Los Angeles is enforcement. Los Angeles County Department of Health doesn't have enough man power and LAPD has enough on their plate without worrying about illegal vendors.

                                  I do have a problem with people who don't have permits to sell food. No matter what people say they are a "potential" danger to the health and safety of the public. (please note I used the word "potential")