Taco truck fighting police ouster
by Beth Winegarner
December 17, 2008
A taco truck at the center of a gustatory debate is fighting to remain in its longtime location next to John O’Connell High School, despite a law approved last year making such juxtapositions illegal.
Police revoked El Tonayense’s permit to operate the truck, located on Harrison Street near 19th Street, in September, but owner Benjamin Santana is appealing the decision, saying his establishment should be grandfathered in because it’s been there longer than the school has. That revocation is suspended, pending Santana’s appeal hearing, scheduled for Feb. 4, according to a report from SFPD Cmdr. Sylvia Harper.
The Board of Supervisors passed new rules March 20, 2007, banning all mobile food vendors from setting up shop within 1500 feet of public schools. In July of this year, police contacted vendors and found only three violating the rules; two agreed to move, but Santana dug in his heels, according to Harper.
Although O’Connell allows many of its seniors to go off-campus for lunch, more teachers than students nosh at El Tonayense, according to Assistant Principal Rick Duber.
“I’m often in the yard by the truck, and very few kids eat there,” Duber said. “It’s kind of expensive for the kids.”
However, some nutrition advocates say O’Connell students frequent the truck at lunchtime, loading up on high-calorie burritos and bringing back food for their classmates. One regular, Robert Bell, said kids pass him dollar bills through the fence to buy Cokes for them.
“If this truck is getting none of its business from O’Connell, why is the owner so reluctant to move?” said Dana Woldow, chair of the nutrition committee for the San Francisco Unified School District.
Police identified an alternate location for the El Tonayense truck around the corner at 2300 Harrison Street, according to Sgt. Wilfred Williams. Santana opposed the move on the grounds that he was operating at his current site before O’Connell moved to the neighborhood eight years ago, according to a report from SFPD Capt. Thomas O’Neill.
Santana could not be reached for comment.
Woldow challenged the nutritional value of the food, arguing that O’Connell has some of the worst scores on California physical-fitness tests – just 22 percent of ninth graders met all six fitness criteria on the 2007-08 test. But Duber said the food’s not that bad.
“Most of it’s actually very healthy,” Duber said. “Much more so than McDonald’s or KFC.”
This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.