When Taco Trucks Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Tacos

Los Angeles County has strengthened its law against taco trucks and other mobile food vendors at the insistence of brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, Jonathan Gold reports.

Last week, led by Gloria Molina, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors passed a law basically outlawing taco trucks, making it a crime for them to linger at one location for more than an hour, punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to six months in prison. (An old law directed trucks to move every half-hour, but the fine was low and the law largely ignored.) Taco trucks, at least the better-known ones, tend to be anchored to a specific location, often outside a nightclub. (If you are on Lexington at Western, you are eating at El Matador; if on Eagle Rock south of York, probably at Rambo’s Tacos.) Owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants are always complaining about unfair competition from vendors with lower overhead and fewer taxes to pay, although most of the really successful trucks seem to flourish in neighborhoods without many restaurants: on industrial strips, along stretches dominated by auto shops, light manufacturing and discount upholsterers. California has seen squabbles like this before — it took extensive legal action to get taco trucks back on the streets of Salinas after restaurant owners there managed to get them banned.

One would think that people seeking to have a nice, sit-down meal are unlikely to be siphoned off by the lure of mobile tacos and that, conversely, those seeking a quick, cheap bite to eat are unlikely customers for a full service restaurant. Presumably, though, fast food restaurants would feel the pinch.

I’m not a fan of rent seeking of this sort but can at least understand why tax paying restaurateurs would organize against competitors who are given relatively preferential treatment by the state. It would seem, though, that the construction of this law is too broad. Why not simply require comparable licensing for “permanent” mobile establishments and stationary restaurants? Or restrict the application of the law as currently written only to trucks operating within, say, a half mile of a fixed facility?

Via Craig Newmark via Chris Lawrence’s shared RSS.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Law and the Courts, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Randy H. says:

    Here’s another idea- have the LA gestapo stay the hell out of it. Up with taco trucks, down with oppressive government.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Sure. But rent seeking is part of government, particularly at the local level. And it’s not unreasonable for restaurant owners to seek relief from competition who are getting more favorable treatment from the government.

  3. M Jones says:

    Taco trucks are an eyesore and a health hazard… Growing up in Los Angeles I do not recall the hundreds of ROACH Coaches I see today… The neighborhoods are heading in the wrong direction. Instead of fighting for taco trucks… better grocery stores or REAL full-service restaurants would be nice. Lets look into the taxes the truck owners claim to pay… lets look into the noise and late night crowds they attract… I can go on and on.. DOWN WITH TACO TRUCKS!!

  4. andymurd says:

    In British cities we have hotdog trucks outside nightclubs and they do cause problems – low hygiene standards, poor rubbish disposal etc.

    All too often these trucks are paying rent to organised criminals, since they make a lot of money with little investment the bad guys want a piece of it.

    However, there are laws against organised crime, minimum standards for hygiene et al. I say the local politicians should be forcing the police & judiciary to enforce the laws, not making up new ones to solve problems that are already legislated for.

  5. Philo says:

    “Truck stands funnel money to organised crime” – so tackle the organised crime. I loathe this cowardly “attack the legitimate businesses by accusing them of causing crime” approach.

    If truck stands are unhygenic, set up hygiene standards. Do remember that the human animal was designed to take a lot more than we’re throwing at it now. I also think most customers (especially the night club “would’ve gone to a posh restaurant if not for the truck” crowd) are discriminating enough to make this a non-issue.

    I’d also like to see the statistics on food poisoning from taco trucks.

    New York has vendors and nice restaurants that seem to coexist okay.

    I suspect about 90% of this is “we don’t like the looks of taco trucks and would like them to go away.” Next up – people who don’t dress well.

  6. Enlightenment says:

    I don’t have a problem with them being in industrial areas, far away from restaurants, since they are benefiting those areas; but I can see brick-and-mortar restaurants point because they have to pay taxes and rent and following the RULES.

    Hey Los Angeles isn’t Mexico, nor do we want it to be, so follow the rules.

  7. AndyGusto says:

    I was out just last night, and all the brick and mortar joints that were still open had closed their kitchens for the night. It’s 1 in the morning, and I’m hungry, and too drunk to drive. Capitalism and hotdog carts to the rescue.
    Yes, carts have lower overhead and are cheaper to run, but I don’t want to wait 30 minutes for you to bring me a menu, drinks, and finally a plate of chicken tenders when I’m just trying to get a bite to eat while stumbling home.

  8. V says:

    This is a stupid interference in the free market. If someone chooses a mobile taco place over your brick and mortar restaurant, maybe your restaurant sucks. Maybe they should start to legislate against gas stations that sell warm food.

  9. Matt Moore says:

    I don’t understand how you figure that the taco trucks are getting “preferential treatment” by the government. It’s hard to imagine how not making them pay property taxes is unfair, seeing as how they don’t own any actual property.

  10. Brian says:

    Why would they want to fuel the already seedy underground black-market mobile taco racket?! It’s just crazy!

  11. Uncle J says:

    Land of the free, truly!

  12. floyd says:

    Most tacos are in the hands of outlaws already!
    [criminal trespassers]