Lynwood Calls Ice Cream Trucks, Peddlers 'Safety Hazards' : Door Slammed on Street Vendors

Times Staff Writer

While children might find sidewalk ice cream vendors delightful, the Lynwood City Council thinks they are a menace and has passed an ordinance banning them from the city effective Aug. 16.

To the chagrin of the vendors, Lynwood joins six other Southeast cities in either banning or restricting vending in public rights of way. Nearby Carson and Santa Ana in neighboring Orange County have similar restrictions.

Under the ordinance passed unanimously by the council on Tuesday, all types of vending, peddling and selling or soliciting on public streets, sidewalks, parks and other public properties are prohibited. Food catering trucks, however, will be allowed to continue selling as long as they are on private property.

The new regulation affects 69 ice cream trucks and ice cream pushcarts, 13 peddlers and sellers of fruits and vegetables and 16 lunch trucks, according to Patricia Saldi, city business license regulator.

All of the vendors currently are required to take out business permits with the city. The annual fee varies, with lunch truck operators paying $100, ice cream trucks and pushcart vendors $30 and other sellers of different products, including clothing, fruits and vegetables, paying $200.

Violation of the ordinance will be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for a period of not more than six months or both, said Don Fraser, city manager. Violators probably will be given warnings initially, city officials said.

Council members give a variety of reasons for banning the vendors.

Councilman E. L. Morris said the council had received several complaints from citizens that the trucks created safety hazards for children dashing into the streets and that ice cream carts caused congestion on the sidewalks.

Morris said there were also unsubstantiated complaints that some vendors might have been working beyond the 10 p.m. curfew for vendors and selling drugs in the parks. "There was suspicion but never any proof that something else was being sold," Morris said. "We had to do something to protect our kids. We were thinking of the safety of the kids. The pushcarts also make the city look tacky," said Lynwood Councilman Robert Henning who said he suggested the ban to the council.

"We don't want any street vendors, including those selling oranges, apples and fruits. It is a health question. We don't know what they are selling," Henning said.

Traffic Congestion

Complaints of vendors causing traffic congestion on some city streets, especially during the weekends, have been reported but there were no records of any specific problems directly related to vendors, according to a sheriff's spokesman.

Some vendors said they were unaware of the pending ordinance; other vendors expressed anger, while some said they were resigned to the ban.

"We are going to fight this. We are hiring a lawyer," said Rafael Gallegos, manager of Manhattan Fruit Bars, which sells paletas or frozen fruit bars to the pushcart operators.

"Councilman Henning must be blind. We are not making the city look tacky or cheap. We are providing people with jobs," Gallegos said. He said his company has distribution offices in Lynwood, the unincorporated area of East Los Angeles, El Monte and the San Fernando Valley.

"There are other problems in the city the council should be dealing with. Pushcarts don't make the city look cheap. Cheap motels, drug selling and streetwalkers do," Gallegos said.

Gallegos called the City Council a "small group of elite people setting themselves up as rulers of the United States."

"Our product is first-rate. Our frozen food is of the highest quality. It is approved by the Los Angeles County Health Department," Gallegos said.

He said he and a group of vendors expect to attend the next council meeting, scheduled for Aug. 6, to protest the new regulation. The group did not protest prior to the ordinance passage, Gallegos said, because it was not aware of any public hearings.

City Clerk Andrea Hooper said the new ordinance constituted an administrative change that did not require public hearings before council approval.

Pushcart vendor Saul Claudio Covarrobias, 17, said he heard about the new regulations "by the grapevine. Talking with others vendors."

Six-Day Work-Weeks

Covarrobias, like the majority of Lynwood pushcart street vendors, is Spanish-speaking. Covarrobias, who came from Jalisco, Mexico, two months ago, said he can gross several hundred dollars by working six days a week in both Lynwood and Compton (which does not have a ban). He said he receives about 35% commission on his sales.

"I don't know what I will do. I guess I will go to another city," Covarrobias said.

Ice cream truck vendors who, unlike most pushcart vendors, own their own businesses and purchase their products wholesale, also expressed anger and confusion.

"What do they want me to do? Go on welfare? I have child support payments to make," said Antonio Sanchez, 35.

"It's my job. I don't work past 10 p.m. I've heard rumors about drug selling. But I don't know anything about that. I just do my job and go home," Sanchez said.

Vannee Saiseubyat, 30, who came to this country in 1971 from Bangkok, Thailand, said she was unsure what she would do if she could not sell in Lynwood.

"Everybody knows me here. The little kids know me. I have been on this route for nine years," Saiseubyat said.

Jamshid Yaghoubi, a 32-year-old ice cream vendor, voiced similar concerns.

"What do I do? How do I support my wife who is pregnant and my two kids?" said Yaghoubi, who said he came to this country about four years ago from Tehran, Iran.

"The Americans won't take a job like this because it pays only $3 to $4 an hour. It is hard work. I work seven days a week to make a living. I don't know what else to do," Yaghoubi said.

In the cities of Paramount and Bell, as in Lynwood, ice cream trucks and pushcarts are not allowed on any public streets. Lynwood based its regulation on Paramount's ordinance, which was adopted in early January.

Both ordinances permit ice cream vendors and sellers in the cities during special events such as parades and they can only sell with council permission.

Bell passed its ordinance less than six months ago because of "the adverse impact on traffic flow," said Byron Woolsey, Bell city administrator.

"There were some complaints from people in the (vending) business, but the council felt the public safety outweighed all other considerations," Woolsey said.

In Long Beach, pushcarts are restricted to a two-block area of downtown while ice cream trucks are restricted to residential areas.

In Huntington Park, pushcarts are banned while ice cream trucks must operate 500 feet from churches and schools and must not sell in front of businesses.

In Cerritos, ice cream truck operators must be cleared by the sheriff's department to make sure they have no criminal records; also, their trucks cannot be operated on city park property. There are no restrictions against pushcarts but there have never been any business permits issued to them, according to a city spokeswoman.

In Lakewood, street vendors of any type also face restrictions. They can stop only when requested by customers, must stop at curbs and only for 10 minutes. Ice cream trucks and other vendors cannot solicit within 1,000 feet of schools, public library or parks.

Carson banned food vending on residential streets after two girls were killed there in 1980 while leaving ice cream trucks.

Santa Ana adopted an ordinance in March, 1983, requiring pushcart operators to obtain vendors' permits and to sell only in the downtown business area.

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