San Diego City Council to look into food truck regulations

Committee sends proposal to Council

SAN DIEGO - Proposed municipal code amendments that would clarify rules for the 78 food truck operators in the city of San Diego were forwarded out of committee Wednesday to the full City Council, but without a recommendation for passage.

Food truck vendors have been frustrated with code provisions that make it difficult to operate on public streets and illegal to conduct business on private property except in downtown -- and that's only if the property-owner obtains a conditional use permit. Such trucks have exploded in popularity due to improved menu quality and options.

Interim Mayor Todd Gloria told 10News in a statement that city leaders gathered input from all parties involved and that he supports the changes.

A staff report to the council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee said the city's limitations on sales in the public right-of-way "are not consistent with the current desired mobile food vending business model."

The other problem has been how to resolve concerns by restaurant owners that nearby mobile purveyors of meals are cutting into business.

"It's a tough one for me. Being a small business owner, I can see some of the merits on both sides," Councilman Scott Sherman said. "It's one of those tough decisions we have to make here."

The proposed regulations would not only make it harder for customers to find their favorite foods, but could hurt business for truck owners like Christian Murcia.

"A lot of these guys have second jobs, working late at night and they're supporting families, be it single mothers, single fathers, and they need the extra income and it's really hurting them," said Murcia, owner of Curbside Bites.

Some food truck operators have posted signs in their windows hoping their customers will help convince city leaders that the regulations are too strict.

Not everyone is against stricter rules for food trucks.

"It impacts us really, really bad; our sales went down 70 percent every Wednesday," said Maria Weaver, manager of Sabrina Cafe & Deli.

Weaver said they recently had to fire two employees because they're losing customers to the mobile trucks.

"I understand everybody has to make a living but don't go where [there are] already established businesses," Weaver said.

Committee Chairwoman Lorie Zapf said there are a lot of good places for food trucks to conduct business, but brick-and-mortar restaurants have made huge investments and have to support employees.

"We're talking about people's lives and livelihoods," Zapf said.

The committee members voted unanimously to have staff and the City Attorney's Office fine-tune the proposals and bring them back to the full City Council at a later time.

The proposal seeks to create an entirely new land use category for food trucks that clarifies where they're allowed to operate and which land use regulations apply, creating what city staff calls a "reasonable" approval process.

The trucks would be allowed to operate without a permit in industrial, commercial and high-density residential areas. The proposal would generally prohibit them from low-density residential neighborhoods, the restaurant-heavy Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy, streets near the beach and roadways close to the city's three major universities.

They would generally be allowed on private property with a permit that would cost up to $935, which the staff report says is consistent with other cities.

Among other proposed regulations:

-- the trucks would not be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages, general merchandise or commercial services
-- no equipment aside from refuse containers would be allowed outside the trucks
-- operators would be required to collect litter within a 25-foot radius of the truck before changing locations
-- no amplified music would be allowed
-- pedestrian and vehicular traffic should not be impaired

Food trucks would not be allowed to operate between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, or 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday, within 500 feet of a residence. The regulations also set out how large the vehicles can be and how far away they need to park from intersections and schools.

Amanda Lee, of the city's Development Services Department, said most of the prohibitions in the plan have exceptions. Also, an earlier proposal to keep food trucks a certain distance from restaurants was not included because it would not be consistent with state law.

Regulations would go into effect in most areas of the city after being adopted. However, the rules would not apply near the shoreline until the California Coastal Commission granted its approval, or near local airports until the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority weighed in.

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