Late last Thursday evening city employees swooped down on the popular Avenue 26 taco stand, confiscating equipment and forcing employees and customers to scatter. The raid was swift and, according to those who were there when it happened, well-coordinated, but it left a lot of questions in its wake. Namely: Who was actually responsible for the crackdown, and why?
Eater reached out to both the LAPD and and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for answers. The LAPD noted on social media that they were not involved in the raid, while the Health Department provided a statement to Eater just this morning. Their statement comes from the office of communications and public affairs within the health department, and reads:
On Thursday, October 19, 2017, investigators from LA City Street Services contacted LA County Street Vending Program to assist with an investigation of a non-permitted food operation complaint at Avenue 26 and Humbolt Street, Los Angeles. Upon arrival, LA County Street Vending investigators observed an abandoned, non-permitted taco stand. As a result the food and taco cart were confiscated.
Interestingly, it seems the health department is claiming that the stand — which routinely draws hundreds of diners per night — was “abandoned” when they arrived, and thus was simply picked up and hauled away. Conversely, witnesses on social media describe a very active scene led in part by some form of undercover police (according to LAist, county sheriffs have also denied involvement), who helped divert traffic and round up equipment. Eater asked for clarification on the “abandoned” statement, but so far has not heard back.
It’s also important to note that, per the health department, the entire fiasco boiled down to an anonymous complaint regarding the “non-permitted food operation” in question. Where that complaint may have originated is unclear, but it’s certainly not uncommon for neighbors, passersby, and even competing vendors to call in to complain about underground trucks and stands. The process actually acts as a vetting arm for the health department, which often chooses to not target vendors in most areas of the county unless there’s been a specific complaint.
The raid on Avenue 26 taco stand also highlights the need for street food reform in Southern California. While the city council has gone to lengths to decriminalize street food (that is, no longer attach criminal penalties for selling) as part of being a sanctuary city, targeted vendors can still receive municipal fines and failure to appear notices if they don’t make mandated court dates. That still makes vendors wary and puts them in jeopardy with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Furthermore, decriminalization does not mean a path forward to legalization. Raids are still common, and public collections of vendors find themselves petitioning the city often for an opportunity to present common-sense street food legislation that will allow for the permitting and taxation of vendors. Until that happens, issues like the shutdown of the Avenue 26 taco stand will continue.