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New rules underway for local taco trucks

POSTED September 4, 2009 11:22 p.m.
Turlock’s taco trucks are on the road to more stringent, codified regulations, following a Planning Commission recommendation Thursday evening.
The proposed permitting changes, which will be reviewed by the Turlock City Council on Sept. 22, would more formally regulate the operation of mobile food vendors, spelling out building and fire code and County Health requirements.
“With this we’re starting to add some teeth to the mobile food vendor situation,” said Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore. “We’ve known for some period of time what we want them to do, and most of them are living up to it, but some of them are not.”
According to the City, some mobile food vendors have failed to obtain the proper permits for sewer or water connections, attaching directly to the sewer without a grease interceptor. Other taco trucks use improper electrical connections, running extension cords to power their vehicles rather than electric poles.
Previously, the Municipal Services Code Enforcement Division would talk to rule breakers, but as such violations were not incorporated into mobile food vendor permits their efforts were somewhat hamstrung.
The new regulations were originally drafted in response to Mariscos Camino Real, a “mobile” food vendor that briefly operated on Golden State Boulevard before running afoul of County Health. The taco truck’s owners went beyond what the City of Turlock deemed appropriate for a temporary mobile food vendor by installing permanent planters, pavers, and even a fountain.
Under the proposed code, only canopies and tents 120 square feet or smaller would be allowed. No more than two tables, seating no more than 10 patrons, could be erected. No music would be allowed.
The annual permit renewal process will also move away from rolling renewals to reduce workload on the Planning Department and allow better tracking of local mobile food vendors. All permitted vendors would renew on either Jan. 1 or July 1 under the plan.
Permitting requirements for Mobile Food Vendor Commissaries — which provide vehicle washing and waste disposal, and would only be allowed in industrial and heavy commercial zones — are also outlined in the proposed amendments. Each mobile food vendor must visit a commissary at least once per day under State law, which is enforced by the County.
Other food vendor permitting changes are also incorporated into the code revision, modifying most permits to be Minor Discretionary Permits, able to be distributed at the Planning Division’s discretion.
While the City believes that most of the 30 licensed mobile food vendors in Turlock today are doing business in accordance with the rules, one regulation — that all employees have access to restrooms within 200 feet of the truck — may require a few vendors to relocate. However, as all regulations are intended to ensure public safety, the City does not expect to make any exceptions.
“I think there are going to be some people that have some problems, but that’s the way it is as far as I’m concerned,” said Planning Chairman Mike Brem.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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