Carne Asada Is Not A Crime

By Xris Macias


        The West Valley City Council passed an ordinance to limit the number of taco stands in the area in September of this year.   This ordinance holds strict policies and regulations for anyone trying to obtain a mobile vendors license.  In the few months since this was passed, vendors are already being affected. 

“Many of the improvements that the city wants to see I cannot afford, so meeting these requirements is nearly impossible, especially with the current economic crisis, I cannot simply find another job to improve my business standards” said Maria Victoria Santiago, owner of El Jaripeo Tacos on Redwood Rd.
The new codes detail how many signs can be posted for advertising, and what “safety” signs need to be visible on the cart.  It also includes many garbage cleanup restrictions and requires vendors to hold a contract with local businesses to allow the use of their restroom and hand-washing facilities.  Just down the street from El Jaripeo on 3500 South is another taco stand called Chatos Tacos: “We are clean.  We have several people working at the same time to keep up with orders and to keep a strict cleanliness as demanded by our boss” said David* one of the employees of this particular stand.

“If I have to hold an agreement with my neighboring businesses, I will have to raise my prices because they would not want me to be better off than them, they see me as their competition,” Santiago stated, expressing frustration at the situation.

The new policies are expected to make the carts “cleaner” and “safer” by allowing city officials to enforce safety rules and business regulations.  The city will not be providing any new licenses for the time being.

When the ordinance was originally proposed, some West Valley City council members argued to remove the taco stands completely.  Council member Mike Winder supported this position.  He said that he found taco stands to be demeaning to the city.  He was quoted in the Utah’s Deseret News as saying “Junkiness should not be allowed to ruin the standards of the city.” He also stated that he cared for West Valley City code enforcers and did not want to burden them further by making them work harder to preserve the city customs.  This was his main argument when he pushed for the removal of the stands altogether.  “Look around,” David said. “Do you see any garbage around our business? Mike Winder is threatened by our stand and others like it because he sees it as competition to his family business.”   Winder is vice president of Winder Farms, a company almost as old as West Valley itself, known for its local dairy products.

This new ordinance is simply another addition to the stipulation passed last year by Salt Lake County that taco stands must reduce the size of their canopy cover to 32 square feet from 60 square feet.  The taco stand owners claim that they cannot cover themselves from the snow and rain. “Why would the city care about the size of the canopy?” asked David. 

         In downtown Salt Lake City, a man who owns a hot dog stand on Main street is exempt to the rule of canopy sizing for reasons unknown to him.  He is not in the city of West Valley, so the new ordinance would not apply to him either, but he stated that the cities in the county all tend to follow each other in codes and laws.  He also mentioned that he has not been affected by any other city or county ordinances.  He runs his business part time and did not wish to share if there were any complaints about his business.

“Maybe we should sell something more appealing to the culture here,” said David from Chatos Tacos, “but the contradiction is that Latino culture is growing rapidly and that is what’s appealing.  Plus, it’s all I know how to make.” 

Taco vendors have not been easily accepted in general throughout the valley and have struggled with constant complaints.  “I believe that the city has the right to make ordinances and watch their streets, but it would be nice to be included in the decision making process. This is how I make a living,” stated Santiago.

Fruit and ice-cream stands in the city are governed by a different part of the law and would not be affected by the city’s new ordinance.  It seems as though a hand-washing facility is not needed if you buy cold foods.

Neither Maria nor David said they had any support from any
organizations or anyone in the council. Santiago said she approached other mobile vendors for advice, but they told her that they could only fight it after the regulation has gone through.  Today, the regulation stands yet no one is standing up for taco stand vendors. 

Yvette Gonzalez, a University of Utah senior, is a regular patron of taco stands. “On a student’s budget, I can’t afford a lot of things, but it’s easy to go buy cheap and authentic food at a local stand,” she said.

The city of West Valley did not succeed in getting rid of these mobile vendors, but as many customers stated, they are waiting to see what tactic they will try next year.