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El Tonayense vs THE WORLD

April 2, 2009

In an actual feat of ‘reporting’, I went to City Hall to attend the El Tonayense hearing at the Board of Appeal (and even testified!) I feel so civic.


I had never actually been inside City Hall.  Quite nice.


Up on the fourth floor hearing room, I ran into ’emamd’, aka Armand, from Mission Loc@l. (No I did not take a panorama of him, sorry ladies.)

Anyway, to the point — the Board of Appeals upheld the revocation of El Tonayense’s permit, but stayed the decision until June 9th. In English, this means that El Tonayense got their permit pulled because they are within 1500 feet of a school, but the board is giving them a couple of months in an effort to get a compromise worked out.  From what the board and the lawyer said, they will be working with David Campos.

El Tonayense’s lawyer pushed for a grandfather exemption, as seems to have happened in the past, but he was up against many barriers. Ridiculous as the law may be in El Tonayense’s case, the truck is within the limit (albeit the back of the school, and with few if any student customers), and the SNPAC Nutritionistas are taking a pretty hard-ass stance.

  • Best piece of evidence – a picture of a 3 inch wide burrito in front of the chain-link fence with 1 inch holes.
  • Most interesting comparison – for domestic abuse you often see only a 500 ft stay away order, not 1500ft
  • Most ironic revelation (at least relative to my previous article) – Gateway High School (a charter school) is looking to hire El Tonayense for lunch twice a week!

The law has good intentions. In our society, easy food is too often unhealthy food. Before the law, food vendors would collect outside the front of schools and sell candy, potato chips and soda. Obviously bad.  But I find the school board nutritionistas to be intellectually dishonest.  They did their damnedest to try to paint El Tonayense as a cause of the declining health of students, but it simply is not.  They cling to Tonayense’s unwillingness to move two blocks as some sort of evidence that ET secretly wishes to poison the minds and bodies of the O’Connell student body. They raised the spectre of armies of food trucks at the door of John O’Connell if El Tonayense is grandfathered in.  Best quote from Nutritionista Waldow (via ML) – While she failed to clearly connect the truck to poor student health, Woldow maintained that she had “no proof that the truck is helping students to become thin.”

In six years of going to the truck, I haven’t seen kids there. While I am sure there are some on occasion, the student body just doesn’t frequent the truck (which in my burrito-centered mind is a problem!)  When the principal and vice-principal of the school don’t see the truck as a threat to the lunch program, you have to take a step back. The issue is many students do not like the cafeteria food, and there’s a double standard for food trucks vs restaurants.

The board seemed to struggle with the case.  I got the impression of reluctance from the cops and skepticism from the commissoners.  Commissioners Goh and Peterson asked if they really had jurisdiction.  Fung was focusing on the fact that El Tonayense was given no notice after the law was passed. Commissioners Garcia was pushing hardest for a compromise (he asked for the stay) and Commissioner Mandelman seemed most sympathetic to the law being overkill for El Tonayense.Let’s hope that Campos and the Board of Supervisors can bring some sort of compromise that doesn’t punish adults while maintaining the spirit of the law (or perhaps write a better law).

At one point, a commissioner mentioned “good truck, bad truck”.  El Tonayense is not the bad truck, and regardless of the nutritionista repetitive dogma, it simply is not causing the downfall of the San Francisco school lunch program.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2009 7:39 am

    Thanks for sticking around and fighting the good fight. Here’s hoping the supervisors see the light…

  2. April 2, 2009 10:45 am

    Thank you for the value add post, Rachel.

  3. April 3, 2009 12:48 am

    Everyone agrees that food trucks swarming in front of school entrances was bad, and that protecting student health is important.

    But there’s a world of difference between that and El Tonayense. It simply does not cater to students, and associating it with student health issues is disingenuous. No matter how many times you repeat it, it’s still not true.

  4. April 3, 2009 7:37 am

    Actually, not everyone agrees that food trucks swarming in front of school entrances is bad, nor that protecting student health is important. One of the foodie blogs has gone nuts with sneering and bashing of us parent volunteer over both those issues, and we children’s health advocates have gotten flamed steadily over them. Most of the taco advocates could give a flying **** about protecting student health.

    The justifications given for exempting El Tonayense simply made no sense — the discussion of grandfathering; the claim that a law is invalid unless every affected party has been personally notified by hand. So what justification would you use — we like this one more than the others?

  5. April 3, 2009 9:00 am

    Exemptions make total sense given that they don’t cater to kids (unlike the elementary school ice cream trucks you ignore) but we’re clearly not going to agree on that despite the evidence.

    Which foodie blogs? Copy and paste links please. And I suspect attacks have more to do with your group’s hyberbole and dogmatic approach. It is hurting your cause which despite a few flames, I think most people agree with.

  6. April 3, 2009 1:45 pm

    I appreciate your civility, though I think that even the charges “hyperbole” and “dogmatic approach” translate to “you’re saying something I disagree with.”

  7. April 3, 2009 5:56 pm

    One more item: The SFUSD food service really took a beating during these debates and the news coverage — more than it deserves. So here’s an update.

  8. 18th at Harrison permalink
    April 4, 2009 11:10 am

    I have been eating from this Truck for over a decade. The food is so extraordinary and delicious that I used to have coworkers on the Peninsula make me drive them up to the city to eat there. Everyone — not just the much maligned Mission Hipster set — eats there. The service is fast, the prices low, the employees sweet as all get out. What the hell is wrong with our city that we are even having this conversation? Students at that school stand a better chance of being shot in a drive by than suffering from the presence of that Taco Truck. The whole controversy is idiotic.

  9. April 10, 2009 11:52 am

    Setting the record straight on some misstatements in the taco truck flap:

  10. March 5, 2010 4:03 pm

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    I’m shocked — this is the first I’ve heard about this. I first ate at the el Tonayense truck back in 1995, when I worked across the street. More lately when I biked home from work downtown, I would sometimes stop at the truck to pick up dinner. It would be a shame and a loss to SF if this truck had to relocate.

    Used to be you could order food at the truck and eat it in a pleasant little garden right there with places to sit. It was ideal, an urban oasis as they say. The kind of place you would treat friends from out of town to. Unfortunately, years ago the school fence was brought forward to the sidewalk, cutting off access to the little park area, which ruined the fun.

    The el Tonayense truck should stay, and not only that, the fence should be moved back to restore public access to the little garden.


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