Ruling Keeps Hot Dog Cart Penned Up in Yard

Times Staff Writer

His wieners were on ice. His buns were on a storeroom shelf. His cart was in his front yard.

Mort Diamond, the San Fernando Valley's self-styled hot dog king, was in a pickle on Wednesday.

"They've ordered my hot dogs off the street," Diamond said. "They got me because I refuse to conform to stupidity by any bureaucracy."

By parking his awning-topped cart on his lawn, Diamond surrendered to a yearlong fight with health officials over rules that regulate about 2,500 food-vendor carts in Los Angeles County.

County officials require that vendors store their carts indoors at night in approved "commissaries." That keeps the propane-fueled heating carts clean, health inspectors say.

But Diamond disputed the commissary rule.

He parked his cart nightly on Leadwell Street in front of his home. He said he stored his wieners and buns at a gas station mini-mart near his Canoga Park neighborhood and towed the cart once a week to a car wash to clean it.

When county officials ordered him to begin using a commissary anyway, Diamond complained that indoor parking of food carts is dangerous because they contain propane stove tanks.

"They can explode in there and kill people," Diamond said. "It's unsafe to take them inside."

Diamond cited a dim sum food-cart explosion last fall in a San Francisco Chinese restaurant that injured 19 and caused $900,000 damage. He also cited fire codes that limit the storage of propane indoors in Los Angeles.

Health Department administrators deferred enforcement of the rule while Diamond's claim was investigated.

They gave him until this week to find a commissary. But Al Medina, senior county sanitarian, said Wednesday: "We got word from county counsel that we were applying the law as it should be." "Mr. Diamond can get his cart recertified when he comes into compliance with the commissary regulation," Medina said.

But Diamond said he can't afford the $200-a-month expense for rental of commissary space. He vowed to continue fighting the rule, perhaps making it a plank in his announced campaign for the Los Angeles City Council seat now held by Joy Picus.

Diamond predicted he will soon taste victory in his fight to operate his hot dog cart as he sees fit.

"On my last day, I gave away 350 of my dogs and nobody got sick," he said. "So where's the problem?"

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