Tacos will be served in a permanent, yet portable, concession wagon in downtown Pelican Rapids.
“Mucho happy” was the reaction of the Chavez family, who became the center of a main street controversy that dominated discussion and packed the fire hall meeting room for two nights June 11 and 12.
At issue was the city’s transient merchant ordinance, application and permit process.
The husband-wife operated “Taqueria Chavez” food truck is now cleared to operate indefinitely, with a city council vote to lift the maximum 28 day limit in the city policy.
Nearly 70 attended the city council meeting June 12.
Cheers erupted, as dozens of Chavez supporters applauded the city council’s action.
Tania Chavez and her many supporters argued that the concession wagon was not a “transient” operation, as the family is local and they hope to operate permanently.
The wide ranging discussion exposed divisions, not only among city officials, but among Pelican’s sizeable contigent of Spanish-speaking citizens.
A string of Facebook posts flared during the course of the controversy, which dates back to May –when Chavez
opened the food stand Memorial Day weekend.
Defying a previous city council recommendation to secure a permit; Chavez was visited by Police Chief Jeff Stadum, and the city clerk was called in on a Saturday to issue the vendor permit.
Under the city’s application and permit policy, mobile vendors were allowed two, 14-day permits annually.
Located only a few dozen paces from the concession wagon is the “brick and mortar” Taqueria Escobar. Owner Jose Escobar said at the Monday planning commission meeting that he felt that the 28 day limit was fair. But allowing a concession wagon to operate indefinitely was unfair to year-round food businesses with the overhead costs of buildings, restrooms, service staff and city utilities.
“We are subject to summer (economy), but in the winter we still have to survive,” said Escobar, who also noted that he made a substantial investment in an outdoor dining and patio area. “I’ve spent money to make (the establishment) better for the community.”
At least two other established Pelican food service businesses were in attendance at the planning meeting, but did not make public statements.
Numerous people stood and testified on behalf of the Chavez family, at both the planning and the city council sessions–including Kathleen Hoover, who leases an open lot next to the “Landmark” commercial building that is being renovated on the north side of the downtown business district.
Hoover argued that a “transient merchant” is somebody who “comes from Minneapolis, sets up and goes home with a pocket full of money.” Tania Chavez has been in Pelican for 20 years and is not transient. “They need to be thought of differently.”
Hoover further raised issues that suggested Pelican city was “anti-business,” stating that the city was “squashing (business) like a bug.”
“We’re shooing them out of the community because of some ordinance,” said Hoover. “I’ve heard from people that Pelican has always been like this…shame on us…We owe them the right to succeed.”
In tears at the planning meeting, Tania Chavez said that she “can’t support their family” on a 28-day operating permit.
“They’re trying to live the American Dream,” said Leticia Perez Flores, who hinted that there would be a mass protest at city hall if there wasn’t a change.
Also speaking on behalf of the Chavez business was Danny Salazar, who challenged city officials to find ways to help them succeed–rather than restricting them.
Accusations that the city is “anti-business” have been voiced, but Don Solga, city administrator, explained that protocol should be followed when dealing with city ordinances and policies that are in the books. “It’s not appropriate for the city council to make changes on the fly,” said Solga. He also defended the city against anti-business allegations, adding that the city wants to promote economic development. But, as the city administrator, it is his job to uphold ordinances in a fair manner.