Week of October 12th

La Vittles Loca

Vendor bender: Taco Hell? Hell's bells! Your piece on mobile food vendors ("Taco Hell," Edward Lebow, September 28) covered a lot of complicated territory, much of it more related to the city's inadequate methods of dealing with neighborhood problems than with the proposed City of Phoenix mobile vendor ordinance. Parts of the story that are directly related to the ordinance topic are misleading either by omission of facts or distorted information. As one of the primary negotiators of the proposal submitted to the city by the neighborhood and vendor teams, I've lived through this brawl for nearly two years. Please allow me to set a few things straight.

Maricopa County issues permits to all restaurants, ice cream trucks, mobile food vendors and practically everyone else who handles or markets food products. The City of Phoenix issues licenses to "street and sidewalk vendors," i.e., traveling catering trucks (roach coaches), ice cream trucks and downtown hot dog and drink vendors. The city does know how many of these exist with licenses; what it doesn't know is how many food vendors currently operate on a semi-permanent basis on private property. The city lumps those folks in with restaurants when they apply for a privilege tax license. The proposed ordinance provides a tracking mechanism through the new mobile vending licensing provisions.

David Ludwig with Maricopa County is quoted as saying there are approximately 1,740 food vendors. That's correct, in all of the county, not, as some people would have you believe, just in Phoenix. Of that 1,740, surveys show that fewer than 80 of the food vendors who will be covered by the new ordinance operate within the city. It is doubtful, given the zoning districts that vendors will be limited to, that the number of vendors -- food or otherwise -- will ever approach 1,700.

Mr. Ludwig further commented that "finding the vendors can be difficult." True, if the vendor drives a catering truck, traveling around the county on an unprescribed route. (The county does not require these vendors to submit their route or a list of their stops, something that is required by other counties around the country.) What the county does know very well is how to find and inspect food vendors who set up on private property. Maricopa County inspectors can tell you that "taco vendors" rack up more inspections than most restaurants do, especially when the inspectors can't find the catering trucks.

Although the proposed ordinance covers anyone selling food or merchandise on private property in the city, it prohibits the provision of services. No more instant auto repair shops, stereo installation, window tinting, etc., under awnings, trees or on unpaved lots. This should help rid neighborhoods of de facto swap meets.

Rest rooms. Dear God, in a city where every other drunk stumbles out of a bar and pees on anything in sight, you'd think that mobile food vendors are somehow responsible for rivers of human waste. Or that the food they handle will infect customers with E. coli, Hepatitis C and who knows what else. (Doesn't anyone read the restaurant reviews?) In fact, the county requires a separate hand-washing sink for any mobile vending unit and access to a rest room "within a reasonable walking distance" for the vendor's employees.

Get this straight: Neither the county nor the city requires a public rest room for patrons of all food establishments. Try buying a hot dog and drink near the stadium and asking the vendor to use his rest room. For that matter, stop in for an ice cream cone in some brand-name establishments and try using the rest room. Sorry, employees only. If we want to fall on our swords over public rest rooms, we'd better start ordering swords by the case; this policy is all over the map.

Your article points up many problems that need to be addressed by both the city and Maricopa County. Our efforts to get the "Mobile Vending on Private Property Ordinance" passed is just one little dog-paddle across a sea of growing urban ills. The fact that a few of us Anglos and a handful of Mexican "taco vendors" worked so long and so well to come up with this proposal is proof positive that working together is more productive than firing off cannons of hateful rhetoric and accusations. Hate is, after all, the ugly daughter of fear and ignorance. You can't work together as long as we did and sustain that parentage. I invite others to try it. My prediction: You'll like it.

Alma Williams

Frijole mackerel: The wrath against the speechless begins its perpetual motion, once again. Amazingly, "Taco Hell" distorts the very essence of the individuals under question, and the more accurate historical backdrop.

The immigrant story is your story, your parents' story, did you forget? Did the Mayflower cross the largest body of water (in comparison to a river on the Mexican-U.S. border) with legal citizens (oops, I mean law-abiding Pilgrims who worked diligently and humanely established their mores in this land where they "discovered" the Indians) ready and able to establish businesses that we all agreed to? I was never asked if I believed in murder of innocent Indians and many Mexicans in this Arizona, your Arizona.

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