Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, some cities in Orange County have begun to experience an increase in mobile taco vendors that had not been seen before. Originally it was believed that it was the result of those who lost their jobs and were looking for alternatives to support themselves.

However, after several investigations, certified restaurateurs and food truck owners realized that the problem was much bigger. Taco stands usually set up on sidewalks or in parking lots are large corporations that sell thousands of dollars a week and pay no taxes to the city or county. They do not have the necessary permits and it is even believed that their workers are victims of human trafficking.

A group of about 50 taco truck and restaurant owners met with Orange County officials Wednesday to discuss their concerns, as well as to call for the stalls to be regulated.

Vendors said these are usually four to five corporations leaving up to 20 sidewalk taco stands. They are usually installed at night when the health and code enforcement departments are not working.

Additionally, it is believed that the workers at these posts are immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally and are working for a meager salary in order to pay for the “coyote” that crossed them into this country.

“The profile of the workers in these positions is short, dark-haired, and many of them do not speak Spanish, they speak dialect,” said Roberto Guzmán, owner of a taco truck in the city of Santa Ana. “These businesses are not for poor people. They are large corporations that already have experience and are exploiting their workers and taking thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.”

Taco truck and restaurant owners met with Santa Ana city and county officials. (OC Business Association)

The losses are massive

Guzmán is part of the Orange County Business Association group which has more than 200 members. He explained that a few months ago the Office of Taxes, Fees and Administration contacted food entrepreneurs indicating that they were not paying the taxes they used to pay per quarter.

“We are paying 30% to 60% less taxes but it is not because we keep the money, it is because we are not selling the same as before. Our sales are down because the taco stands are taking them away,” Guzmán said. “If the taqueros are going to compete, let them do it legally.”

He explained that, for example, each of the sidewalk stalls on a good night makes up to $2,500. These are part of a group of approximately 20 stalls owned by a single owner. So in one night that owner can earn up to $50,000.

“Make the count by week, by month, by year. Those are thousands of dollars lost in taxes that do not reach the coffers of Santa Ana,” said Guzmán.

The businessman indicated that his truck is open from 9 in the morning to 11 at night. However, in the afternoon and evening is when his sales have greatly decreased.

He explained that his truck cost him more than $180,000 and has all the necessary permits. The health department comes every three months to do a review and he gladly opens the doors of his business to them, as does any other department that wants to review it to show that it is following all the rules.

“We have to follow protocols on how to handle food, such as putting food in refrigerators, for example, vegetables first, then cooked, and lastly raw. They don’t have refrigerators at the taco stands,” Guzmán said. “These people have no knowledge of how the process works. Who sanitizes the place? Where do they make the sauces? Where do they take the leftover food

Vendors indicated that it is important that diners take into account these health issues that, if not done correctly, could lead to stomach indigestion or even more serious health problems.

Additionally, if someone gets sick after eating in that place, it has to be investigated. If the business is ghost, you cannot know how they work and there is no one to complain to.

The investigation begins

After the meeting the county representatives were impressed to see how this network of illegal businesses works. Participants included the mayor of Santa Ana, a representative from Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents Santa Ana, as well as representatives from the city’s health and code enforcement department.

The mayor of the city of Santa Ana, Vicente Sarmiento, said that they will collaborate with the county to protect small businesses that operate according to the law to stay on their feet.

He added that it is a disappointment to see what these corporations are doing.

“We know that they come from other counties and we know that everyone is in need but that they should not come here to compete with small businesses that are trying to earn their daily bread and are small families,” Sarmiento said. “Those stalls don’t pay taxes, they don’t have permits and they fail to meet city codes. I’m hopeful we’re going to improve on that.”

Clarifying SB 972

Both vendors and Sarmiento indicated that it is important to make sure to clarify who benefits from SB 972, signed on September 23 by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Small business street vendors celebrated the passage of the law that aims to make permitting procedures, cart design, equipment standards and storage space more accessible to sidewalk food vendors.

Some benefits of SB 972 include the reduction or exemption of permit fees for small food vendors. This could be a savings of around $2,000 or more depending on the county where they work.

It also creates a new subtype of mobile sidewalk food cart, but clarification is still needed from public health agencies in each county on which carts will be approved.

Vendors said these rules are too vague and don’t specify who qualifies, which is why large corporations are coming to various cities with taco businesses.

“I am going to advocate with the legislators because they have facilitated the growth of businesses that are not allowed,” said Sarmiento.

Christine Lane, director of the Environmental Health (EH) Division, said the OC Health Care Agency division conducts outreach to Orange County communities on a regular basis to explain procedures and answer questions serving the community. community.

“As a result of the meeting [del miércoles]EH, in partnership with leaders from Orange County and the City of Santa Ana, will work collaboratively with leaders and other stakeholders to monitor and enforce illegal food operations in the City of Santa Ana on a weekly basis,” he said. Lane. “The collaborative work is being done in recognition of the importance of supporting businesses as well as community safety.”

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