In El Segundo, some scream for ice cream

The latest public health debate swirling in the quaint beach city of El Segundo is whether to allow the number of ice cream trucks in town to double.

For the past decade, El Segundo has had one licensed ice cream truck vendor. But earlier this month, Chekesha Palmer applied to become the second, igniting a debate among city leaders over the pros and cons of ice cream trucks.

"I think they create problems," Councilman Don Brann said at last week's council meeting. "I don't see much good about issuing a permit for someone to do this in our town."

If it weren't summertime, parent associations would be up in arms, Brann said.

The council is scheduled to make a final decision Sept. 1. Council members asked the city attorney and Police Department for more information about the possible negative effects of allowing another ice cream truck to roam the streets.

Palmer, who lives in Marina del Rey, said she was filling a need by bringing her vehicle, a modified U.S. Postal Service truck painted bright orange, into the city. When she happened to pass through El Segundo on a recent sweltering Saturday afternoon, parents and children ran up to her in droves, she recalled. They told her the city's lone ice cream vendor had been out of commission for awhile and asked her to return, even giving her their home addresses.

The city's current licensed vendor has not been operating because his wife is sick, and he will not be back until 2010, city officials said.

"That city is in need of a ice cream truck vendor," said Palmer, who said she is licensed to sell in Los Angeles and Culver City.

She said she has dreamed of owning an ice cream truck ever since she was a girl, when her father operated one on weekends, selling Bomb Pops and Big Sticks.

"Why would a city deny an ice cream truck, when every adult and child grew up on ice cream?" she asked.

But where Palmer sees a harmless treat, Brann sees concerns that go beyond dental hygiene. The trucks deplete children's pocket money and distract them as they walk home from school, he said. They make it harder for local sports leagues to raise money by selling snacks, and they often sell dangerous toys, such as firecrackers and replica guns, he said.

Mayor Kelly McDowell finds the jingling music of ice cream trucks annoying, but he sees little danger in licensing another one.

"Parents have the obligation to make sure kids get home in time, as opposed to ice cream vendors, in my view of the world," he said at the council meeting. "I don't want to penalize this poor woman for trying to obey the law."


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