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UCLA School of Law Clinical Program Wins Case Challenging Validity of Los Angeles City Ordinance Implemented Against Taco Trucks

Clinic students secure victory on behalf of catering food truck operators when judge finds municipal parking ordinance not based on public safety or public health and preempted by the California Vehicle Code

Lauri Gavel
Director of Communications
UCLA School of Law
(310) 206-2611


LOS ANGELES, June 10, 2009 - UCLA School of Law's Clinical Program, working together with Sanjukta M. Paul, a civil rights attorney with the firm Rothner, Segall, Greenstone & Leheny, secured a victory for catering food truck operators in a case challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance that has been aggressively implemented against these vendors in Los Angeles since the beginning of 2008.  On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Barry D. Kohn ruled on appeal that the ordinance, which required catering trucks to move every 30 or 60 minutes to a distant location and not vend for 30 to 60 minutes, is not rationally related to public safety or public health and is preempted by the California Vehicle Code.

Catering food truck operators in Los Angeles, often known as "lunch trucks," "taco trucks" or "loncheros," have been subjected to vigorous city enforcement of a law that imposes steep fines on violators. On behalf of Mr. Francisco Gonzalez, who has operated a commercial vending vehicle in East Los Angeles for more than twelve years, UCLA School of Law students Angélica Ochoa '09 and Sarah Day '09 argued that the California legislature has made clear that municipalities may only regulate, not prohibit, the legal operation of such vehicles for the purpose of the public safety.  They challenged the city regulation at issue - Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 80.73(b)(2)(F) - on the grounds that the ordinance itself is invalid under the California preemption doctrine, which holds that local ordinances that conflict with the state law are void.

Ochoa, one of the students who handled the case, said: "The opportunity to help our client fight a law that was threatening his business, and secure a victory on behalf of catering food truck operators in Los Angeles, was the highlight of my law school experience.  My partner Sarah and I were honored to work, as part of the Criminal Defense Clinic, on a case that directly impacts businesses that are an integral part of the Los Angeles community."

Launched in 2009, the law school's Criminal Defense Clinic offers a unique opportunity for students to provide pro bono representation under close supervision, and in cooperation with local firms and defender organizations.

"This parking ordinance was being vigorously enforced against our client, as well as other food truck operators throughout the city.  The hefty fines were literally destroying these businesses and the families that depend on them.  We are so pleased that the court's decision makes clear that the ordinance is preempted by state law, which regulates and legalizes their businesses," said Ingrid Eagly, who teaches the Criminal Defense Clinic and supervised the students working on the case, along with Ms. Paul.

Many vendors attended the hearing, including members of the Asociación de Loncheros, a community group that has organized around issues affecting catering food truck operators in Los Angeles. Alfredo Magallanes, a member of the association's board of directors, explained that "this is an important victory for our members - it makes clear that hard working loncheros can continue to operate our businesses in Los Angeles."

A similar Los Angeles County ordinance, which made it a misdemeanor to park a taco truck in one spot for more than an hour, was challenged last year by vendor Margarita Garcia as being unconstitutionally preempted by the state Vehicle Code.  Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dennis Aichroth agreed and ruled that the law was not "logically" related to the public safety.

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