Whittier Boulevard is known for many things. One is its iconic lowrider scene on Sundays; as per tradition, the community comes out to see the strip come alive with lowriders bouncing up and down the block. But seven days out of the week, you can also find delicious food from all the different food trucks that line the sidewalk on Whittier Boulevard.
That was until last week when food truck owners arrived at Whittier Boulevard and noticed the entire sidewalk and a mile stretch was red zoned. Francisco Tinoco of Birrieria Gonzalez said he received a call from another food truck owner in the area saying, “They painted everything red.”
“I was like what? No notice or warning? At least a heads-up that they were going to paint would have been a huge help,” he said.
Tinoco has been selling his birria on Whittier Boulevard for the past seven years and said besides law enforcement citing them, they have never had an issue with selling in that area. The taquero noted in the past, the sidewalk had been painted red, but not all of it, four to five parking spots were left open. He explained how moving even a short distance away for any food trucks, and street vendors can drastically impact their sales, an impact he noticed immediately.
“That’s one of the biggest things for a lunch truck. If you move a block up, the people won’t find you. We literally just went across the street, and our sales dropped about 80% easily. It’s a huge hit,” said Tinoco.
He said a notice from the city, county, law enforcement, or even the Commerce Center would have allowed them not just to find a new place to sell but it would have given them time to let their customers know where they would be.
Abel Hernandez from Churros Don Abel also said they received no warning and reiterated Tinoco’s statement.
“We were about to complete 13 years there, and in that time, we never had an issue until now, and we really don’t know why, but what can we do?” he said in Spanish. “It does affect us, and I don’t just mean me as the owner tambien mis trabajadores (also my employees) because business is not going to be the same, meaning there’s less money, esta duro (it’s hard).”
When asked for an explanation on the sudden red zone, Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement:
“In an effort to ensure that emergency vehicles do not lapse in response times in life or death situations, the County is leading a pilot project in unincorporated East Los Angeles where red curbs are painted along a portion of Whittier Boulevard. I’ve heard several stories from constituents and stakeholders that emergency vehicles often times have to cut through narrow residential streets in order to meet their destination – vehicle collisions, house fires, and health emergencies, to name a few. To that end, it is critical to assess the impact of this pilot project on whether it will enhance response times and ultimately, improve life outcomes for residents.”
However, Tinoco responded to the news about the pilot project and said the accusation that they block emergency services from getting through is false. He said they were never warned or informed about their food trucks blocking any emergency services.
“Ima be straight up, nobody parks there, I’ve never seen an ambulance park there, when the sheriffs go and cite us, they park right in front of us. They have gaps,” Tinoco said, surprised to hear Solis’s explanation. “I don’t see why they painted a whole mile red because they need emergency access. They painted so nobody could park there. That was a straight shot at us. They did it to move us.”
L.A. TACO did reach out to the fire department regarding comments made about emergency vehicles not being able to access the area on Whittier Boulevard, to which they said:
“We didn’t initiate this pilot project, but we do support it, any time that there is an avenue for creating more access to a building, whether it’s for a medical call or structure fire that benefits us as a fire department and first responders. And that goes for any area that has the curb painted red.”
The department did not disclose not being able to access the area in the past but said they support the efforts, explaining that “it’s a pilot project,” meaning it is not something that is permanent just yet.
As for Tinoco, he explained that his reason for believing this was done purposely to remove them is because they had been through this before at a location in Compton, where he said the sidewalk was also painted red, forcing them to leave.
At Whittier Boulevard, aside from the sidewalk being red zoned, signs have also gone up on the street where it states the sidewalk as a no street vending zone. Street vendors who do not comply face fines as high as $1,000. Tinoco said that's had a huge impact on the few street vendors that often sold there as well.
“And they can’t say it’s because of dirty streets because we would all pay for someone to come pressure wash the sidewalk with hot boiling water,” he said. “I feel like that’s the way you move a lunch truck and vendors that you’ve been wanting to move for a while, and you red zone them.”
Other food truck owners like Edgar Sanchez from Mariscos El Bigotón, who also has been on Whittier Boulevard for the past eight years said, moving location, no matter the reason, always comes at a cost. Aside from noticing his sales going down, he said moving can also expose them to altercations over “territory.”
“Moving from a location is hard too because it’s new territory even if it’s a few feet away,’ Sanchez said. “Where we’re at now (across the street), it’s first-come, first-serve. If someone else beats you to the parking, you’re out. And if you beat someone else, that alone can cause an argument between trucks sometimes, no one owns the streets, but people get territorial.”
He explained that when a vendor or food truck establishes a location for years, they also develop relationships and mutual respect with their vendor and food truck neighbors. And having to move even down the street means having to build new relationships and trust all over again.
“We’re going to take a good hit on that location for sure, not to mention it’s the holiday’s man. I usually have five workers in each truck, and today I could only send three because business was slow,” he explained. “I'm trying to see how I'm going to do it because I know my employees need money too. I feel bad because Christmas is right around the corner.”
For now, some of the food trucks have been able to find parking across the street and said they would be there unless they get kicked out. Tinoco said the best way anyone can support them is by visiting their new location and letting others know about all the food trucks that had to move.
“It’s awesome that the community is standing up and are wanting to back us up, whether it was calling attention to the red zone or by showing us support for the days that followed. We thank all of them for that.”
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