After claim $36K food truck fees targeted Latinos, Chowchilla leaders reform rules

Months after backlash for setting food truck fees that local operators said unfairly targeted Latinos, the Chowchilla City Council has nixed its previous $36,500 annual licensing cost. Instead, the city will set the license fee based on a business’ revenue.

Chowchilla food truck owners began sounding off in August, when they realized the city would be charging $100 per day of operation. That led Catalina López Mendoza, owner of the Tacos El Guerrero food truck on Chowchilla’s west side, to pause her operation.

The cost hike prompted Plátano, Pupusas Y Cafecito, a Salvadoran food truck owned by Chowchilla residents, to take their business to Madera. Owners Digna and Adonay Díaz, and their son, Josue Díaz, said the draconian fees were too much on top of the city’s other administrative requirements.

The Díaz family said they feel the fees had “racial undertones” because local food trucks tend to be entrepreneurial opportunities for Latinos. And so the fees would harm Latino businesses in a disproportional way, they said. During a council meeting Oct. 10, the Diaz’s and other food truck operators called for a repeal. The council paused their collection and formed a committee to review how the city regulates food trucks.

Mayor Kelly Smith told the Fresno Bee after Tuesday’s council meeting that the committee’s work – looking at state and local requirements, and the community’s concerns – was “eye-opening.”

“We’re making them equal with all other businesses,” he said. “We told them all along, ‘If you have any problems, come talk to council.’ They did, and we looked at their concerns.”

Now, food truck owners will pay the city a $225 annual inspection fee, and the annual cost for their licenses will be based on their business’ annual revenue. Those licensing fees range from $21 for businesses with revenues below $10,000 to $344 for businesses with revenues above $200,000.


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These fees are consistent with how the city charges retail businesses for their licenses, according to a report to the council from city staff. The city will begin collecting the new fees Feb. 23.

Josue Díaz, who spoke very strongly against the previous fees, said in a phone interview with the Bee that he was pleased with the new licensing costs.

Councilmember Ray Barragan Jr. abstained from voting on the new fees and the introduction of proposed zoning changes related to food trucks. Josue Díaz previously argued that Barragan, who was the city’s mayor last year, engaged in a conflict of interest when he voted for the hefty fees in August because he owns the Sugar Ray’s BBQ restaurant in Chowchilla.

“I just thought it’d be the right thing to do,” Barragan said about abstaining during Tuesday’s vote, adding that he wanted to avoid any potential conflict.

The proposed changes to the city’s zoning code, if passed at the council’s Feb. 13 meeting, would establish the conditions under which food trucks can operate. Gone is the city’s previous requirement that food truck operators get permission from every business owner present in a lot where they want to operate.

Josue Díaz said he thinks the changes are the result of the city realizing it was violating state law, “which is why they had to revamp their entire code” for how they regulate food trucks.

The numerous proposed additions to the code include, among other distance rules, requirements that food trucks operate at least 300 feet from each other, at least 1,000 feet from schools that are in session and never in a residential district, unless it’s authorized for operation during a private event. They would also be required to operate on paved sites only and have liability insurance of at least $2 million in addition to a $1 million commercial automobile insurance.

Another rule would require that a bathroom with a toilet and hand-washing station that is accessible to food truck employees be no further than 200 feet from the truck.

Although he said he hasn’t analyzed the proposals closely yet, Josue Díaz called the city’s reforms “a welcomed change, and one that reflects the growing needs of the community.”

For now, the Díaz family will continue to operate in Madera. They had previously said that, despite working in Madera, they would fight for change in Chowchilla because they knew it would impact other businesses in the city, such as López Mendoza’s Tacos El Guerrero.

“If it’s a positive change, we would love to come back and do business in our hometown,” Josue Díaz said. “We will continue to engage with city council to ensure vendors have equal access to economic opportunities in their own hometown.”

A man recieves his order at Plátano, Pupusas Y Cafecito in Madera on Oct. 7. The Salvadoran food trailer operates in the lot of a Chevron gas station on Cleveland Avenue and Highway 99 in the city of Madera, where the owners say they might end up staying despite being Chowchilla residents.
A man recieves his order at Plátano, Pupusas Y Cafecito in Madera on Oct. 7. The Salvadoran food trailer operates in the lot of a Chevron gas station on Cleveland Avenue and Highway 99 in the city of Madera, where the owners say they might end up staying despite being Chowchilla residents.