Long Beach looks to curb ice cream truck music

Felipe Hernandez, 15, helps his father serve ice cream from their truck in Long Beach. Some vendors have expressed concern about Long Beach's move to restrict ice cream truck music, saying the jingles are the only way to alert customers that their trucks are nearby.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

For generations of children, it is the pleasing sound of summer: the tinny, high-pitched rendering of “La Cucaracha” and “It’s a Small World” coming from ice cream trucks trudging through their neighborhood. The music sparks Pavlovian desires for Popsicles, Bomb Pops, 50/50 bars and ice cream sandwiches.

For some residents of Long Beach, though, the repetitive — and sometimes competitive — warbling has become an annoying nuisance, more like nails on a blackboard.


The City Council this week took a step toward reining it in, drafting an ordinance that would require ice cream truck drivers to turn off the music when they are serving customers.

Council officials are getting a lot of national attention as a result, and not all of it is flattering. They have nothing against ice cream trucks, they say, but they want them to be quieter.

“I want to state for the record, I do like ice cream and I enjoy ice cream trucks,” Councilman Dee Andrews said. “We just have to strike a balance of the needs of our neighbors for peace and quiet and the business needs to sell ice cream.”

Ice cream vendors are worried about the regulations, saying the music is the only way to alert customers that their trucks are nearby.

“The music is what brings the children out. If they take that away, our businesses are going to be affected in a negative way,” said vendor Ismael Hernandez, who has peddled ice cream in Long Beach for 13 years. “The music is vital for us.”

Hernandez loops up to 16 different songs on his truck, although he said the most popular song — the surefire customer draw — is a song called “Hello,” a riff on “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”

Even some vendors admit they can understand the residents’ concerns. There is no coordination or assigned routes for the trucks. So some end up clustering in areas were there are a lot of children, such as around parks.

Driver Nestor Zea, 61, said he has seen more than three ice cream trucks on one street, all of them blasting music.

“I try to tell them, ‘If there’s going to be three of you guys on a street, at least have [just] one truck playing music,’” Zea said. “But that’s just me advising them.”

Yvonne Gamez, 65, lives across the street from MacArthur Park, a popular spot for ice cream truck drivers. She said she can hear the ice cream trucks approaching from two streets away. And even when they park, she said the music keeps playing.

“A lot of times they keep it on when they stop,” Gamez said. “It’s kind of loud. When you’re my age, you don’t want to hear it over and over.”

Isaura Lopez, 23, who also lives next to the park, is tired of the bothersome jingles.

“Sometimes I’m trying to watch TV and as much as you try to ignore the music, you can’t,” Lopez said. “It’s loud and it’s annoying.”

At the unanimous direction of the City Council, Long Beach will spend the next few weeks studying how other cities have limited the music played by ice cream trucks, Deputy City Atty. Amy Webber said.

In Fullerton, food-vending vehicles are prohibited from playing music while parked. They can play music while they’re in motion, but it cannot be audible from more than 200 feet away.

The language is from “an old section of ordinance” that is rarely, if ever, used, said Kirke Warren, Fullerton’s building and code enforcement manager.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever had a complaint about music from an ice cream truck,” he said.

Ice cream trucks in Alexandria, Va., can only play music for a certain amount of minutes in a given area, Webber said.

It’s too soon to say, she said, how Long Beach will enforce its ordinance.

City Council members said one thing is certain. They’re not trying to push the trucks out of town.

“So the ice cream man lives on in Long Beach,” said Councilman Patrick O’Donnell.

Times staff writer Jack Dolan contributed to this report.