Mountain View Voice

News - March 23, 2012

Food trucks need new rules, council says

by Daniel DeBolt

A new crop of food trucks is apparently causing problems for Mountain View businesses, city officials say, and City Council members want to do something about it.

Council members voted 5-2, with Tom Means and John Inks opposed, to begin working on an ordinance that could tell food truck owners how, where and when they can operate within Mountain View. Several have apparently stepped on the toes of "brick-and-mortar" restaurants by coming to town on Friday and Saturday nights and parking downtown, among other places.

Code enforcement officers have cracked down.

"There's been a significant increase in complaints, questions and concerns from residents, neighboring businesses, business associations and food truck operators themselves," said code enforcement officer Chris Costanzo. "They have questions as to how, when and where they can operate in Mountain View."

City Attorney Jannie Quinn said food truck operators had to get temporary permits to be at Thursday Night Live events downtown last year.

"Mountain View hates us. They don't want us to be here," said Darrel Oribello, a marketer for food trucks.

City staff will soon propose an update to the city's 56-year old food truck ordinance, which only regulates food trucks that visit job sites. Public hearings could be scheduled in May and a final City Council vote could come in the fall.

The ordinance is aimed at the new trend of "specialty food trucks" that alert customers via Twitter or Facebook, and may be parked for long periods or come to events.

Resident Alison Hicks said she was also concerned about "over-regulating" the food trucks, which she and her friends seek out.

"I think they add to the food culture in Mountain View," Hicks said. She added that she wanted to "make sure Mountain View remains a vibrant place, food-wise."

Means noted that people used to call food trucks "roach coaches" but "now we see things that are pretty fancy and franchised," Means said. "They show up do their thing and they move on. It's kind of neat and kind of spontaneous."

Inks and Means said they didn't see evidence of a big problem, and did not want to regulate food trucks on private property. But Quinn said there was some question about how long it takes for a food truck to become a land use that the city should regulate. The city has run into at least one instance of a food truck parking for more than one day at Clyde's Liquors on El Camino Real.

"Until we understand exactly what the problem is, these complaints should be worked out on a case by case basis," Inks said.

Macias disagreed, echoing what appeared to be the majority opinion: "No one has any assurance they will be treated the same," without clear regulations, Macias said.

"Our hope is to make it as simple as possible so our code enforcement officers can answer questions they can't answer right now," Quinn said.

She added that the city would be looking at "best practices" in other cities where food trucks have also seen increased use, spurring new regulations.

Council member Jac Siegel said it made sense to look at the 56-year old regulations because "the best way to solve a problem is not to let it materialize to begin with."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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