Over 20 Latino-owned food trucks led a mobile march down International Boulevard in Oakland Monday – from 46th Avenue and International to City Hall –disrupting traffic to pressure the city to pass an ordinance to allow them to expand their vending operations past East Oakland.
Currently, mobile merchants are not allowed to operate outside designated zones, mostly in flatland Districts 5, 6 and 7. Mobile vendors say they are feeling increasingly congested by the growing number of trucks and relatively few places to park their trucks for business in these areas.
This, as a result, has hurt their businesses, many of which are family-owned and employ up to 10 workers who are supporting their own families.
They also say that the city’s unwillingness to expand their vending parameters and the use of police to shut down those working outside the currently allowed zone equate to discrimination.
“It’s very saturated here,” said Ezequías Ortiz of Tacos Acapulco. “The city won’t give us permission to work outside and now they’re ticketing businesses that have been here for years.”
The mobile merchant ordinance, which was introduced to the City Council in 2009, has taken six years to get through the City Attorney’s office, city staff, the planning commission and countless public hearings.
The law would expand the merchants’ working zones to certain locations within the entire city of Oakland.
Mobile vendors believe this is the year that City Council will pass the ordinance.
On Monday, several commissaries—established commercial kitchens where food truckers and other food service providers can go to prepare and store food in clean and inspected locations—came together for the action, also calling for an end to what they consider harassment by the city.
According to several merchants, the city has recently been serving more cease and desist letters to mobile restaurants that are as close as a block away from the allowed parameter and often the police show up to shut their restaurants down.
Since the mobile merchant ordinance would nullify these charges, vendors are upset by the city’s stringency and aggression that has recently become more frequent.
Pati Liles, owner of Taquería La Bonita, a family-run mobile restaurant, said police have recently shut down her business three times after receiving complaints from neighbors. Each time, the police showed up within minutes of being called.
“It’s unjust that police are being used to stop people who are doing nothing wrong and are just trying to work,” said Liles. “The police never showed up when my son was hit by a car. We called them and they never showed up.”
Furthermore, Nancy Marcus, administrative assistant for the city of Oakland, has been denying requests to renew special business permits for some of the vendors that have existed in Oakland for over 10 years, say mobile business owners.
The food truckers who took to the street on Monday afternoon view the city’s aggressive behavior as a drive to squelch the businesses of mobile vendors in favor of stores that are renting space.
The mobile vendors face opposition mainly from store vendors who feel they cannot compete with the trucks and carts stationed outside their stores and by neighbors who are afraid of the crowds that would follow food trucks into their neighborhoods.
According to Councilmember Noel Gallo, who has been working with mobile merchants in the Latino community to get the ordinance passed through City Council, the city frequently has failed to ensure that vendors who operate mobile stores are doing so legally and with a permit.
“There’s a lot of illegal trucks competing with restaurants that are paying fees and getting their inspections,” said Gallo in an interview with El Mundo. “It causes everybody to lose business because they can’t compete with unpermitted vendors selling on the corner.”
The new ordinance would only apply to mobile merchants who have a permit to operate in certain zones and in safe and legal ways.
Food truck owner Antonio “Tony” Belayo says the ordinance is simply a matter of keeping business afloat in a city that’s becoming more and more popular to live and work in.
“We don’t want to interfere with restaurants or other vendors. We just want everyone to be happy,” said Belayo. “Mobile merchants are a source of employment in Oakland and it helps many of us support our families.”
“Mobile merchants have always been a vibrant part of this city and form a vital part of Oakland’s economy,” said Araceli “Shelly” Garza, an advocate for the mobile merchants who helped organize the caravan on Monday.
“Since 2009, the city has been telling us that the ordinance is going to finally be scheduled,” said Garza. “People are sick and tired of being put on the back burner.”
At City Hall, Councilmember Gallo promised the crowd that the mobile merchants ordinance would be approved by City Council by the end of the summer.