Whittier Blvd's Food Trucks Struggle To Find New Place To Park
December 8 was a typical Wednesday morning as Frankie Tinoco and his employees prepared to drive the Birrieria Gonzalez food truck to its usual spot on Whittier Boulevard, outside the Commerce Center shopping mall. Then, Tinoco received a call from fellow food vendor Mariscos El Bigoton.
From Beldon Avenue to Gerhart Avenue, the curbside where they had been selling for the past seven years had been painted red.
"In the morning, we came in and everybody was struggling. Where are we going to park? Where are we going to sell?" Tinoco says. He posted a video of the curb on Birrieria Gonzalez's Instagram. The caption, in Spanish, read, "The sun rises for everyone, the EAST LA lunch truck will be across the street from where we were. For the reason of the video they already painted the entire sidewalk red and well, what do you need to do to keep going?"
They were stunned. None of them had received any notice or warning.
"I think if they had told us a month ahead that they were going to paint the curb red and for us to find a new spot, it would have been easier for us," Tinoco says.
Four trucks, including Birrieria Gonzalez, found spots across the street. Two other trucks couldn't fit into the cramped stretch of roadway, so they drove around until they found spots where they could settle. Even for the trucks that stuck around, it wasn't easy.
"We were lucky enough to sell across the street but just yesterday, [Wednesday], our sales dropped about 80%. It was 4 in the afternoon and we were barely at 30 orders, where we would typically be at 70 or 80," Tinoco says.
Birrieria Gonzalez also has a sit down restaurant inside the Commerce Center, but according to Tinoco, they earn more profits from their food truck.
A statement from Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, issued on Thursday, Dec. 9, explains:
"In an effort to ensure that emergency vehicles do not lapse in response times in life or death situations, the County is leading a pilot project in unincorporated East Los Angeles where red curbs are painted along a portion of Whittier Boulevard. I've heard several stories from constituents and stakeholders that emergency vehicles oftentimes have to cut through narrow residential streets in order to meet their destination — vehicle collisions, house fires and health emergencies, to name a few. To that end, it is critical to assess the impact of this pilot project on whether it will enhance response times and ultimately, improve life outcomes for residents."
Tinoco understands the concern but wishes officials had at least reserved parking spots for the six vendors that had long been using these spaces.
L.A. County officials also placed signs near the freshly painted curb prohibiting street vending. A failure to comply can result in a misdemeanor citation with a $1,000 fine.
What About The Lowriders?
Whittier Boulevard is also home to East L.A.'s lowrider culture. Businesses at Commerce Center as well as local food vendors have benefited from that community's patronage.
Danielle Lugo, a longtime East L.A. resident who lives a couple blocks away from the mall, comes from a lowrider family. She worries that these red curbs may affect the traditional Sunday evening cruise.
"Whittier Boulevard is legendary for lowriders and vendors, and this is a hub for all of that. I know people who will drive from other cities in their lowriders to experience the food trucks," Lugo says.
East L.A. resident Mark Lopez, who is part of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, fears the red curbs could cause a chain reaction that would hurt the lowrider community.
"This is an attack on the food vendors and the lowriding community. This is a strip where folks gather and park between all of the food vendors and watch the cruising that's going on. It's limiting people to gather and support vendors," Lopez says.
We have reached out to the office of L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis to ask about the impacts of this new red curb on food trucks and, potentially, on lowrider culture and received the following statement:
"We encourage you to connect with local businesses and stakeholders in the area who shared various concerns on the importance of enhancing response times when emergency situations occur in the area. As we shared in our comment, this is a pilot project and we ask that anyone with questions reach out to our East Los Angeles District Office at (323) 881-4601."
What's Next For The Food Trucks Of Whittier Boulevard?
For now, Birrieria Gonzalez and the other food trucks are parking across the street from their former locale. Finding spots isn't easy. No matter how delicious the ceviche and tacos are, convincing customers to park inside Commerce Center then walk across busy Whittier Boulevard is a hard sell.
If the new location doesn't work out, Tinoco says the truck may have to find a new base of operations. (Birrieria Gonzalez has six trucks that park in various locales, from Pacoima to Compton.)
"We have our permits. We pay our taxes. We pay someone once a week to clean the sidewalk with hot water to pressure wash the floor. We do it because we like to keep the location clean. We're part of this community too," Tinoco says.
For these food truck operators, who are already struggling with the effects of the pandemic, the holiday season just got a bit harder. Now, they'll have to ride it out and see how the county's experiment plays out.