Do Food Trucks Have Political Power? 64 Trucks Endorse an Assembly Candidate
Photo by Alan Heitz via LAist Featured Photoson Flickr
Some might say that proper dinner etiquette means refraining from discussions on religion, money and politics. On the streets of Los Angeles, however, food and politics go hand in hand. Just a few years ago, the Carne Asada is not a Crime movement swept headlines locally and nationally after L.A. County Supervisors bowed to brick and mortar restaurants, placing strict parking limits on taco trucks parking in unincorporated areas. Once the ordinance went into effect, it didn't take too long for a judge to throw it out, letting the 4,000 or so taco trucks in the county go back to business as usual.
A few months after that court decision, a new concept was born by taking a taco truck, remixing the traditional menu and adding a social media twist. When Kogi BBQ hit the streets it was a sensation: hundreds would wait in line -- many who located the truck via Twitter -- for Korean tacos made by a highly trained restaurant chef.
Exponentially, new trucks began showing their goods on the streets: Chinese tacos, architecturally-influenced ice cream sandwiches, Indian frankies, South African bunnies. Fueled by Twitter, the trend exploded in popularity and controversy. On Wilshire Boulevard, for example, restaurants on the 5700 block banded together to regain their lunchtime crowd lost to a new unofficial lunch truck row -- police were called in, trucks were ticketed, some towed.
Now some 64 trucks have banded together under a non-profit organization umbrella called the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, which runs food truck lots on the Westside and in downtown. Unlike the charitable nonprofit 501(c)3 model, the SCMFVA went for a 501(c)6, which allows them to lobby and take a stand on political issues.
And with the June 8th Primary in a couple weeks, they're ready to try a game changing move: endorse a candidate at the state level where many laws, helpful or not, guiding food trucks can be made. Because food trucks and the Westsiders have not always seen eye to eye -- remember the drama with L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz? -- the group has chosen to endorse Democrat Betsy Butler for the 53rd Assembly District.
"It's a really contested seat right now. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination usually wins the district," explained Matt Geller of SCMFVA.
After contacting all the candidates, the Association chose Butler. "She sees the benefit of food trucks in that area."
Not all 40,000 Twitter followers the Association shares between the trucks are not residents of the 53rd, but thousands of customers walking away with their favorite food in one hand and a Butler flyer in another could wield some influence. "We don't know exactly how pinpoint it is," Geller said of their Twitter blasts, "but we do know that when we're on a truck and we're in Venice and we're handing out flyers that those people are likely from that area."
If Butler wins, she won't be the first to get help from the food trucks. The Association first endorsed a winning candidate a few weeks ago at the neighborhood council level. Cary Brazeman garnered the second most votes for a seat on the Mid-City West Community Council, which oversees the portion of Wilshire Boulevard where restaurants and food trucks are at odds.