Vendors upset with new policy

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By Don Pace

Food vendors who have done business on Fifth Street during lunchtime at Robertson High School for years said last week they were being unfairly targeted.

Recently, they said the city police were called to tell them they couldn’t park along the yellow curb next to the school.

Dale Bustamante of Buba’s Pizza and Nghia Ha, owner of Little Saigon, said at a Las Vegas City Schools board meeting last week they were getting mixed messages from school officials.

“We feel that we are being pushed away and are trying to get clarification because we are being told different things by different people on a daily basis. We were moved from the place we were at, the location the school told us to park, and rather than talk to us about it, the police were called,” Bustamante said.

Bustamante said he had spoken to Superintendent Rick Romero several times, but it’s not clear on what the district will do.

“Does the school want us there?”

Ha said the vendors have been dealing with the situation for about a month.

“It’s confusing the heck out of me, and I don’t know what to do. They’re telling me to go over here and then go over there. This business is what keeps a roof over my family’s head and how I feed my kids. I feel like I’m running around in circles,” Ha said.

Superintendent Romero told the board that the student nutrition report by Food Services Director Pat Baca would hopefully shed some light on the impact the review will have on the vendors.

Before Baca got to her report, board Vice President Ramon “Swoops” Montaño said that everyone knows he’s not a big fan of Robertson’s open-campus policy.

“It’s very dangerous to have our kids crossing the street at Seventh and Mills to get a taco or a Big Mac; it’s ridiculous. So we need to see what we can do to make meals more appetizing so that our students want to eat in the cafeteria,” Montaño said.

Baca said both at Robertson and Memorial Middle School, students are offered a second entrée so they have a wider variety of choices.

“So we are trying to make everything more appealing,” she told Montaño. She said she was also trying to reopen the A-Plus Grill.

Member Elaine Luna asked if the vendors would have the option to apply for the lease to run the A-Plus Grill.

Romero said that is something the district would consider.  

Board member Phillip Vigil said the district has had good relations with the vendors for years.

“I can understand them having to move across the street, but I feel that we are chasing them away. I have not seen anything from the state saying that we have to chase our vendors away and if I haven’t, I know darn well they (vendors) haven’t,” Vigil said.

Luna said the vendors should have the opportunity to sit at the table and have a dialogue with the district and see if there’s something that could be done.

Baca said during a state inspection in December, the district was found in noncompliance of U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that state outside vendors cannot sell food to students anywhere on campus.

“Food from outside vendors must be sold to students by school staff, which means it has to go through our kitchen to regulate food temperatures,” Baca said. “If the vendors park across the street and we have an open campus, the kids can buy whatever they want to buy and we would be in compliance. On the day of the review, the vendors were parked on the yellow line in front of the school. So automatically we were in noncompliance.”

Baca said a state inspector told her if that continues, it could affect the district’s monthly reimbursements.

Romero said, “The potential of us losing federal funding at a cost of $6,000 to $7,000 a day is something I don’t think the board would appreciate if I didn’t act appropriately on behalf of the district to ensure, that doesn’t happen.”

Romero said the police showed up because he asked the city for help.

“Code enforcement doesn’t want to deal with it, the city police doesn’t want to deal with it, and no one else wanted to deal with it, so it roots itself as our problem. We have the responsibility to ensure that our students are safe and if the kids aren’t using the crosswalks and a kid gets hit, who’s going to be liable? Not the vendors, it will be the school district.”

Romero said he met with the vendors on two occasions and that he told them if they would just park at the end of the street close to the crosswalks and encourage kids to use them, then there wouldn’t be a problem.

“I have talked to the vendors, I did meet with them, and I thought we came up with a reasonable solution. But the other problem that arises is that ninth-graders cannot leave campus and yet they were doing that,” Romero said. “What happened to our closed campus policy for freshmen? Our intent is not to hurt these vendors, and I would never do anything to take away their living, but I think I’ve been more than fair in trying to work with these people. At the same time, I have a responsibility to look out for the best interests of this district, and I’m telling you (the inspector) basically said if you don’t deal with this then he would follow through and start fining the district. We can’t afford up to $7,000 a day in nonreimbursable meals.”

Romero also told the board that the city manager and police chief met with residents in the area who are very unhappy with the situation.

Student board representative Brandyn Jordan said he was hearing complaints from freshmen that they were not allowed to cross the street because of the closed-campus policy.

Romero held fast and said the policy would remain and that freshmen would not be allowed to leave the campus — period.            

Bustamante and Ha told the Optic that they were not there to badmouth the administration. They said their food was inspected and that they carried proper insurance for their companies.