The future of mobile food trucks in downtown Turlock lies entirely in the hands of the Turlock City Council as the Planning Commission failed to reach an agreement on whether they should recommend stronger restrictions of the mobile vendors in certain downtown areas.
Revision of the mobile food trucks is just one portion of a comprehensive update to the City’s zoning regulations, but the item was considered separately due to the high-profile nature of the decision.
“Staff decided to take the items separately because we were aware that there was a certain amount of controversy associated with the mobile food truck facility item and we wanted to give the Planning Commission and the Council time to thoroughly consider the items separately,” said Deputy Director of Development Services Debra Whitmore.
The Commission’s 3-3 split vote on March 5 is indicative of the controversial issue that has been a hot item of discussion for citizens and local business owners for more than a year. The discussion was precipitated by complaints from downtown business owners as well as the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association’s request that the City examine regulations of the mobile food facilities after two permits were issued in 2013. Subsequently the Commission and Council approved resolutions with intent to amend the City’s Zoning Regulations regarding the vendors.
An interim ordinance was adopted in November 2013 when Council voted to prohibit issuing permits for food trucks for 45 days in the Downtown Core Zoning District, a decision which was extended for 10 months in December 2013. The amendment before the Planning Commission on March 5 included making the interim decisions permanent by prohibiting mobile facility permits to vendors for the Downtown Core, the Downtown Core Transition, and the Office-Residential districts.
Newly appointed Commissioner Steve Hallam voted with the Staff recommendation to prohibit the issuance of temporary, on-site mobile food facility permits in the three districts but said he is not opposed to the food trucks parking just a block or two off of the main drag.
“In the interest of maintaining the integrity of the most historic buildings in our downtown core and keeping that pedestrian orientation is why the staff recommendation made sense to me,” said Hallam.
Commission Chair Soraya Fregosi and Alternate Ashour Badal voted with Hallam while Commissioners Nick Hackler, Jeff Hillberg, and Victor Pedroza opposed the increased restrictions. Newly appointed Commissioner Eric Gonsalves recused himself from the vote as he spoke about the issue in a public comment period prior to his appointment.
Hackler said that he voted against the restrictions not because he thinks food trucks should have cart-blanche authority to roam where they please, but rather because there was no isolated area outlined where they would be welcomed.
“I really appreciate the brick and mortar atmosphere so it’s not that I think they’re wrong for not wanting to have a mobile food truck sell food right in front of their business. It’s that I hate the fact that when you ban people from certain areas you are sending a strong message that you don’t support the little guy,” said Hackler.” I wish there was more of a compromise for an area for the food trucks because putting a complete ban over downtown didn’t make very much sense to me.”
Steve Fraga owns the popular Cupcake Lady mobile cupcake shop with his wife Troyce. As the self-proclaimed first mobile food truck in the Central Valley, the couple has nine city business licenses which allow them to operate in different business climates throughout the region.
“From our standpoint what Turlock s doing is absurd,” said Fraga, noting that other communities in the state are actually encouraging the presence of food trucks. “It’s counter to the tried and true American principle of competition.”
Following the split vote the Planning Commission unanimously approved a motion to forward the item to the City Council with multiple commissioners reflecting that as a policy decision, the onus ought to rest with the Council anyway.
“I didn’t know how the vote was going to go, but I think the lack of recommendation might play better to their vote,” said Hackler, noting the split decision symbolizes the importance of the issue. “It is better for them as policy setters to make the policy decision.”
The Turlock City Council will discuss the future of the mobile food facility permitsat the April 14 meeting.