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Lodi enforcing old law that has many vendors asserting livelihood at risk

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Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 10:00 pm

The city of Lodi has begun enforcing an existing but unused section of the city's zoning laws that could force many of the city's mobile vendors, including lunch trucks, out of business or at least out of Lodi.

For the past three years, Alfonso Ochoa and his wife, Veronica Gomez, have supported themselves selling tacos, burritos, tortas and tostadas from their truck, Picosita, at the corner of Church Street and Turner Road.

Now they say their livelihood may be in jeopardy.

"Everybody works to make money the way they can," Gomez said. "It's not fair."

Groans and curses could be heard Tuesday as hungry customers approached Picosita and saw the notice from the city posted on the truck.

"This is the only place a lot of people like to eat," said 16-year-old Agustin Diaz. "I don't think (the action) is correct."

Ochoa at one time worked in the area's vineyards, cherry orchards and other farms.

He saved up, bought a lunch truck and split his time between the two - fields by day, lunch truck by night - until business at the truck picked up and allowed him to leave the fields behind.

About 15 trucks operate in Lodi, and the city has taken action against them to alleviate traffic, land use and potential health and safety issues, as well as the unfair competition with brick-and-mortar businesses that pay property taxes and fees, city officials said.

The law has been on the books for about a decade, and the City Council recently directed staff to begin applying it.

"We're just asking (the mobile vendors) to come into accordance with the ordinance," said Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce.

Code enforcement officers began serving notices to trucks on Cherokee Lane last week, Community Improvement Manager Joseph Wood said.

What's next?

The city's code enforcement staff will hold a meeting to explain the regulations to the public from 3-5 p.m. Thursday at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St.

He said some truck operators create health hazards by using extension cords for their power supply or illegally connecting to a light standard.

Some of the trucks operate in empty lots that do not have established traffic control patterns and pose a hazard when cars are near pedestrians, Wood said.

Marlena Morales, owner of North Sacramento Street's Mazatlan Cafe, had mixed feelings about the crackdown.

She said having mobile vendors pay for permits would level the field for stationary restaurant owners, who must pay various fees to the city for sewer and other services.

But there's also the concept of free enterprise.

"They have the right to have their business, too," said Morales, who has owned the cafe for 20-plus years.

A number of the vendors pay rent to whomever owns the land they park on.

Jan Cutler, owner of the sandwich, soup, salad and cookie shop Rollin' in Dough, said she doesn't understand what the problem is if that is the case.

"If it is agreeable to the person who owns the property, then the city should just butt out," Cutler said, adding that she sells a different type of food so direct competition is not an issue with her business.

The notices give the recipient seven days to move from private property and follow regulations on mobile vendors. Such vendors can't stay in one spot longer than 10 minutes and must move at least 100 feet when the time is up. Additionally, vendors must stay at least 300 feet from schools in session and 100 feet from intersections. Vendors can ask the council for a permit allowing them to stay in the public right-of-way longer than 10 minutes, such as the one held by the hot dog vendor outside of the Lodi Post Office, Wood said.

Lunch trucks brought the issue to the surface so they are being targeted first, Wood said, and mobile flag, sunglasses and flower vendors will also have to comply with the laws.

The first violations after receiving a notice is $100, followed by $250 and $500 for the second and third infractions, Wood said.

The city came close to enacting similar measures on mobile vendors in 1998, but tabled the matter after an outpouring of opposition from vendors and their customers.

The Picosita lunch truck pays Ken Dyer, the owner of Valley Bait and tackle, $600 a month to park in his lot, Gomez said. Picosita pays business license and sales taxes like any other restaurant, she said.

Dyer said it would seem the city would want the trucks on private property, rather than streets and curbsides.

He'll be at a loss when the city forces Picosita to move from his lot.

"They'd be taking money out of my pocket," Dyer said.

Contact reporter Jake Armstrong at jakea@lodinews.com.

First published: Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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