It is no secret that mobile food vendors are becoming increasingly popular throughout the state. Many famous gourmet chefs have even joined the trend, opening their own food trucks in large cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But one question has lately been on the mind of local business owners and city officials: will the City of Turlock allow these mobile food vendors in the downtown core district?
While it may not seem like a pressing matter to the average citizen simply looking to purchase quick, yet delicious food during the chaos that is "lunch hour," the issue has recently grabbed the attention of downtown business owners - many of whom believe these mobile food trucks have an "unfair advantage" to that of a permanent downtown shop or restaurant.
During Thursday evening's Planning Commission meeting, a local entrepreneur and former U.S. Marine Christopher Shaun addressed the commission on his plans to bring his own food truck, Vida-Vital, to downtown Turlock. Focusing on healthy food options such as smoothies and fruit bowls, Vida-Vital is hoping to be set in the empty parking lot across from Dustbowl Brewing Company on Main Street during four hours of the day, split between lunch and dinner rush hours.
While Downtown Property Owners Association administrator Dana McGarry said that she is not against mobile food vendors, she expressed reservations about the City moving forward with allowing mobile food facilities in the downtown core zoning district without having a discussion of the impacts on other downtown businesses.
"The association doesn't have a problem with entrepreneurial spirit," said McGarry. "Moreover, our concern is really how these types of businesses fit with our downtown plan."
The Downtown Property Owner's Association is comprised of downtown business owners who, among other services, utilize an extra property tax to help maintain the downtown area. The issue with allowing mobile food vendors in the downtown core, as expressed by many of the downtown association members, is that as they do not own a specific property downtown, they are not subject to the extra property tax yet reap the benefits of other businesses that do.
"What concerns me is having an even playing field," said John Jaureguy, a downtown property owner and member of the TDPOA. "It is not fair for these businesses to not have to comply by the same regulations. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have them downtown, but we just need time to have a discussion about it."
As a result, the City of Turlock has received a letter from the TDPOA requesting a study be done on the mobile food facilities regulations in the Turlock Municipal Code, and how it applies to the Downtown Core zoning district.
First, the TDPOA is asking the City Council to adopt a resolution of intention to amend the regulations regarding mobile food facilities, specifically as it relates to the downtown area. Secondly, they are also requesting that the City halt issuing mobile food facility permits in the downtown district until the Planning Commission adequately studies the regulations and formulates a recommendation for the Council to review.
According to City staff, there is a belief that issuing mobile food facility permits in the downtown core conflicts with the goals of the downtown zoning regulations and design guidelines that seek to ensure the current and future success of the downtown area by enhancing and preserving its "unique historic character" and "encourage future development that is compatible with the overall feel of downtown." It is also believed to be in conflict with the current guidelines as mobile food vendors may discourage new investment and construction in the downtown area.
The City Council is expected to approve the review of the mobile food regulations, following the Planning Commission's decision to do the same. However, it is unknown as to whether the Council will vote to freeze the issuance of all mobile food facility permits while the study occurs.
On Tuesday, the City Council is also expected to:
• Adopt updated development mitigation fee programs for infrastructure improvements for the Northwest Triangle Specific Plan, establish related fees, adopt the Capital Facilities Fee Nexus Study, establish a Northwest Triangle Specific Master Plan fee, and direct the City Engineer to collect the lower of either the current fees or newly adopted fees;
• Accept the final report and Pavement Management Program update completed by Nichols Consulting Engineers;
• Approve the renaming of the northeast storm basin walkway to Singh Walkway on behalf of the Turlock Indian American population in recognition of their contributions to the community;
• Appropriate $350,000 for the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project;
• Consider entering a contract with "Consult-A-Doc" for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013-14 for "24/7/365" on demand physician consultations;
• Authorize the sole source purchase of Motorola mobile and portable radios as necessary for the Turlock Police Department, in an amount not to exceed $590,000.
The Turlock City Council will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, located at 156 S. Broadway.