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Debate swirls in El Segundo over ice cream truck vendors

August 24, 2009 |  3:21 pm


The latest public health debate brewing in the quaint beach city of El Segundo revolves around a delicacy of the sweet, frozen sort: The City Council is weighing whether to allow the city’s per capita rate of ice cream trucks to increase twofold.

For the past decade, El Segundo has had one licensed ice cream truck vendor. But earlier this month, Chekesha Palmer applied to become the second, igniting a debate among city leaders over the pros and cons of ice cream trucks.

“I think they create problems,” Councilman Don Brann said at last week’s council meeting. “I don’t see much good about issuing a permit for someone to do this in our town.”

If it weren't summer, parent associations would be protesting, said Brann, a former schoolteacher and superintendent. The council is scheduled to make a final decision Sept. 1. City leaders asked for more information about the possible negative affects of allowing an ice cream truck to roam the city’s streets.

Palmer said she was filling a need by bringing her vehicle, a modified U.S. Postal Service truck painted bright orange, into the city. When she happened to pass through El Segundo on a recent sweltering Saturday afternoon, parents and children came running up to her in droves, she recalled.

They told her the city’s lone ice cream vendor had been out of commission for awhile and asked if she could return, even giving her their home addresses. The city’s current licensed vendor has not been operating because his wife is sick, and he does not plan to return until 2010, city officials said.

“That city is in need of an ice cream truck vendor,” said Palmer, who said she is licensed to sell in Los Angeles and Culver City.

Palmer had dreamed of owning an ice cream truck ever since she was a girl, when her father operated one on weekends, selling Bomb Pops and Big Sticks.

“Why would a city deny an ice cream truck, when every adult and child grew up on ice cream?” she said.

But where Palmer sees a harmless treat, Brann sees concerns that go beyond dental hygiene. The trucks deplete children’s pocket money and distract them as they walk home, he said at the meeting. They make it harder for local sports leagues to raise money by selling snacks, and they often sell dangerous toys, including fire crackers or replicas of guns, he said.

Mayor Kelly McDowell said that even though he finds the jingle of trucks annoying, he sees little danger in licensing an ice cream truck.

“Parents have the obligation to make sure kids get home in time, as opposed to ice cream vendors, in my view of the world,” he said at the meeting. “I don’t want to penalize this poor woman for trying to obey the law.”

-- Victoria Kim

Photo: Chekesha Palmer's ice cream truck. Credit: Chekesha Palmer.