Although a handful of changes to the City of Turlock Zoning Regulations will be recommended to the City Council, one in particular has left many divided – a ban on mobile food facilities in Turlock’s downtown.
Being at the center of several public meetings over the past few months, the issue first came to light when the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association requested that the City review its zoning regulations on the mobile food trucks after a new facility, Vida-Vital, had been approved for Main Street.
Initially placing a moratorium halting the issuance of food truck permits for the downtown area, the City opted to allow Vida-Vital owner Christopher Shaun to retain his permit for the Main Street location for one year. In the mean time, the City has since been reviewing zoning regulations, while moving towards placing a permanent ban on food trucks in the downtown core.
On Thursday, the Planning Commission voted in favor of several zoning regulation changes, including a provision that would prohibit the establishment of mobile food facilities in several areas including the downtown core, the downtown core transition and the office residential overlay districts.
Unable to open his food truck for business due to the continual setbacks placed upon him, Shaun continued to fight in favor of mobile food facilities, saying that the commissioners were not representative of what the community desires.
“If you look anywhere on social media, or talk to members of the community, you would see that this is the kind of stuff that they want,” said Shaun. “I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but I don’t think that a group of five or six people is representative of what the community wants.”
Mike Brem, the chair of the planning commission, fired back at Shaun, asserting that the commissioners were chosen to make decisions on behalf of the community.
“We are the community,” snapped Brem. “We were appointed by the Mayor, who chose us to make decisions that are in the best interest of the community…This decision is about deciding what is appropriate, and not appropriate, for downtown Turlock.”
While the initial complaint from the Downtown Property Owners Association regarding food trucks being allowed in downtown was due to the truck owners not having to pay a 42 cent per square foot parcel tax that other downtown businesses do, the conversation has since turned to accusations of “unfair business advantages” and “unfair competition” to nearby brick and mortar businesses. Owner of local food truck Saucy Girls, Kari Hernandez, stood aside Shaun, saying their trucks did not represent competition to existing businesses.
“I think that we offer more to the downtown, and actually complement the existing businesses there,” said Hernandez. “You know, if there’s something that I don’t have on my menu, I would certainly recommend to my customers that they go visit another downtown restaurant that does…Our customer base doesn’t have to be in competition.”
Commissioner Soraya Fregosi asked Shaun whether he believed his business would be in competition with the existing nearby brick and mortar businesses, to which Shaun replied “no, as people seeking a fast, on-the-go option are a different customer base than those who want a sit-down experience."
Although Shaun may not have received a direct answer from the commission as to “what the big deal was” about allowing food trucks in the downtown core, he did receive advice to gather individuals who were in support of his position to bring along to the next meeting.
“The people with the loudest voices are the people who show up,” said Commissioner Victor Pedroza. “Gather your support and show it to us. We haven’t made any final decision yet. We’re still trying to figure out what is best for the community.”
Shaun says that he is hoping to have more support at the next meeting, and is urging others in Turlock who support his efforts to voice their opinions.
Although the planning commission voted in favor of the zoning regulation changes, their vote is merely a vote of recommendation to the City Council, who will have the final say in the proposed changes at a future meeting.
Other zoning amendments included changes to regulations on accessory structures, such as gazebos, storage sheds, and detached garages; landscaping and irrigation; permitted locations of recreational vehicles; salvage and wreckage; cargo containers; electrified fences, and drive-through facilities.
To see detailed changes to zoning regulations, visit the City of Turlock website at www.ci.turlock.ca.us.