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A Police-Assisted Raid of Taco Truck Raises Questions in El Monte 

3:12 PM PST on February 16, 2023

screenshot via: Los Palomos

In El Monte, anti-street vending regulations enforced by police-assisted local government officials have reached taco trucks.

“Want a lunch truck? There you go not even with one, they still try and close us down, like if we are committing a crime,” wrote the taquero behind Los Palomos food truck on Instagram.

The post, accompanied by a video, showed how on Saturday, February 11, the Los Angeles Health Department accompanied by El Monte Police showed up to Los Palomos in what seemed to be an attempt at shutting them down. 

This comes just four days after El Monte’s city council approved a resolution that essentially aimed at cracking down on street vending. The resolution called on the health department to enforce existing laws that pertain to the public right-of-way, obstructions, and fire hazards on sidewalks; a law that is often used to kick out street vendors. 

What made Saturday's encounter different however was that the business they were allegedly attempting to shut down was actually a food truck—not a food stand on the street. The food truck also didn't seem to be obstructing any foot traffic, since a clear pathway was visible in the video. Two customers who had just ordered were enjoying their tacos off to the side of the truck away from the main sidewalk. 

The bright green truck was still taking orders when the health department approached them, first on the scene was street vendor advocate Edin Enamorado, who also caught the encounter on camera. 

For the taqueros involved, Saturday's encounter was especially troubling because they felt targeted seeing as just two years ago almost to the day, the health department and El Monte PD aggressively shut down the then-food stand. That encounter went viral for quickly turning violent and was caught on video, showing officers pinning down three individuals, one of which was a woman. 

The taqueros were identified as Fermín Martinez-Martinez, 30, and Silvia Aguilar, 36. Martinez-Martinez is originally from Cuatro Palos Tamazulápam del Espíritu Santo, an indigenous region in Oaxaca, and his wife is from El Salvador. 

Despite the violent and traumatic interaction, the taqueros were able to accomplish what for many street vendors is a dream: They went from selling on the sidewalk out of planchas (flat-top propane-powered grills) to upgrading to a full-fledged food truck. State and local regulations have strict bylaws that all food trucks must abide by, such as having to park and process food at a licensed commissary. This is why when the health department showed up on Saturday two years after, Los Palomos were surprised and confused about what the issue was this time around. 

At one point in the video, one of the health department officials is seen telling Enamorado that they are not shutting them down they are just “checking.” The man stops himself before proceeding to look at the truck's taped paperwork. However, for the taqueros, their presence was a flashback to that night in February two years ago when they were attacked and arrested by El Monte PD. Frustrated being in the same place they were in in 2021, one of the taqueros is heard telling the health department official:

“You remember me? I went to your office and you said you don’t want me here in this area.”

The food truck did appear to have a permit, in the video, you can see a public health letter “A” displayed on the side of the truck. L.A. TACO did reach out to the Los Palomos for comment but was unsuccessful in reaching them. 

As of January of this year, SB972 has officially gone into effect, allowing street vendors and small businesses like Los Palomos an actual opportunity at obtaining their health permit, a permit that has proven to be difficult to obtain in the last couple of years. 

L.A. TACO did reach out to the city manager and mayor of El Monte asking about what kind of efforts the city is taking to support their street vending community but has yet to receive a response. Also asked was if there is a possibility of placing a moratorium on enforcement in place to give entrepreneurs like Los Palomos and street vendors the opportunity to learn about SB972 and learn about the changes it's bringing when it comes to the permitting process. 

However in a statement addressed to Hey Socal News, El Monte City Manager did not address the interaction with Los Palomos but did touch on their decision to crack down on street vendors saying:

“We are proud of the culture and entrepreneurship of our vendors who are legally permitted to vend in our City. Unfortunately, we have those who do not have the appropriate permits and are not following specific operation and safety requirements…This resolution serves as a crucial step in enforcing the City’s existing laws around public safety, promoting a safe and accessible environment for vendors and the public, and educating our vendors on the guidelines and permits required.”  

As for Los Palomos, like many vendors, they have continued to set up and conduct business as usual and are thankful to those who stood up for them on Saturday.

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