UCLA School of Law Clinical Program Students Secure Victory on Behalf of Taco Trucks

July 14, 2009
Angélica Ochoa ’09, Francisco Gonzalez and Sarah Day ’09
From left: Angélica Ochoa ’09, Francisco Gonzalez and Sarah Day ’09

UCLA School of Law's Clinical Program students, 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. The ordinance required the vendors, often known as "lunch trucks," "taco trucks" or "loncheros," to move every 30 or 60 minutes to a distant location and not vend for 30 to 60 minutes, or face steep fines.

On behalf of Mr. Francisco Gonzalez, who has operated a commercial vending vehicle in East Los Angeles for more than 12 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.

Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Barry D. Kohn ruled on appeal that the ordinance is not rationally related to public safety or public health and is preempted by the California Vehicle Code.

"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," Angélica Ochoa said. "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."

The law school's Criminal Defense Clinic, launched in 2009, offers a unique opportunity for students to provide pro bono representation under close supervision, and in cooperation with local firms and defender organizations. Ingrid Eagly, who teaches the Criminal Defense Clinic, supervised the students working on the case, along with Ms. Paul.

Many catering food truck operators attended the June hearing, including members of the Asociación de Loncheros, a community group that has organized around issues affecting catering food truck operators in Los Angeles. Thanks to the work of another group of UCLA Law students, participants in the Community Economic Development Clinic who worked in conjunction with Public Counsel and the UCLA Labor Center, the Asociación de Loncheros was able to obtain 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association status, creating the first nonprofit trade organization for the catering food truck community in Los Angeles.

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