Mountain View Voice

News - May 31, 2013

Food trucks get green light

Council permits mobile vendors to open for business in parts of downtown

by Daniel DeBolt

The city's 57-year-old food truck ordinance got a revamp Tuesday night, ending an unwritten agreement that had been keeping food trucks off Castro Street.

The new wave of food trucks seen around the Valley may soon return to parts of the city's downtown, where food truck operators had been effectively shooed away by the city. City Attorney Jannie Quinn said in January that mobile food vendors had a "gentle-person's agreement" to not park downtown while the city considered a new ordinance. Downtown restaurants had also complained.

"It is interesting that nobody was here tonight from the food truck industry saying 'This is a bad thing,'" noted council member Mike Kasperzak. "Like so many people they want certainty. Having a framework helps them know what they can do and what they can't do."

Mobile food vendors will still be excluded from Castro Street between Evelyn Avenue and California Street and from Dana and Villa streets between Hope and Bryant streets. That leaves open several parking lots where council members previously expressed interest in seeing food trucks allowed, including the St. Joseph's church lot at Church and Castro streets and the Caltrain lots on the north side of Evelyn Avenue. Food trucks could still park downtown for special events.

In the 5-2 vote, council members decided not to allow the food trucks to be in operation until midnight, going with the 10 p.m. curfew recommended by city staff, but they agreed to revisit the restriction in a year.

"The local news doesn't come on until 11 p.m., council meetings don't end until 11 p.m., I don't see why we're cutting people off at 10 p.m.," said council member Chris Clark.

"When I was pregnant many times I went looking for something to eat (late at night), and all there was, was fast food," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga, who also questioned the earlier time.

City staff members said the recommendation to keep food trucks out of most of downtown was due to "public safety concerns" — previously saying that food trucks would encourage jaywalking and standing in the street. There was also opposition to food trucks from downtown businesses. A letter from the Central Business Association said food trucks have the unfair advantage in not having to pay numerous fees required of restaurants and other businesses.

Council members John McAlister and Mayor John Inks opposed the ordinance for different reasons. Inks said it was unnecessary to regulate food trucks and questioned whether the public safety concerns were real, while McAlister said they were a threat to "brick-and-mortar" businesses, which have complained about them.

"This council seems to want to make it easier for the food vendors to come along and harder for brick-and-mortar people," said McAlister, who owns an ice cream shop.

Food truck owners will still have to pay a fee of over $600 a year to operate in the city.

The council also learned that food trucks owners are required by the county to provide a bathroom for employees when parked for more than an hour. It could be an agreement to use a privately owned bathroom nearby, but it has to be within 200 feet.

The new ordinance also specifies that food trucks stay 100 feet away from schools and may not park adjacent to single family homes, unless a block party permit allows for it. Food trucks may also not park for more than four hours in a private lot without a special event permit, or take up more than 25 percent of a parking lot or 10 parking spaces, whichever is greater, without a special event permit.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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