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Food truck future in downtown looks dismal
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Food trucks may not be included in the future of Turlock’s downtown, following Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting where the general consensus was not in favor of the mobile facilities.

During Thursday’s meeting, the Planning Commission and City staff held a public workshop on whether or not food trucks should be allowed in the downtown core district, running primarily along Main Street from Palm to Lander.

The purpose of the meeting, said planning director Debbie Whitmore, was to create a space for the public to share their input on the issue before a decision is made in the coming months.

“This meeting is primarily about getting input from the community and to find out what they want,” said Whitmore, who reviewed the City’s current mobile food facility ordinance and compared it to surrounding communities.

Although the City Council in 2000 requested that city staff look into banning mobile food facilities, the City opted to revise the ordinance and permitting process. Further revisions in 2009 were also added, including more specific requirements for canopies, seating, and signage due to previous compliance issues.

But with more than 35 current permitted food trucks in the City, Planning Commission Chair Mike Brem said it’s not so much about the food trucks rather than the location.

“This is not so much about what you’re doing,” said Brem to local food truck owner Christopher Shaun whose business, Vida-Vital, has taken center stage of the issue. “It’s just where it is.”

Although Shaun fought to explain to the Planning Commission that many community members had expressed support for his business being located downtown, sharing that it had received many ‘likes’ on Facebook and comments of support, Brem said it was still a matter of appropriateness.

“It’s not an issue of what people want or what they like,” said Brem. “People can like a lot of stuff. This is about fairness and practice for the business owners. It’s also about what is appropriate in our downtown.”

Unfair business advantages seemed to be the main reason why local business owners and the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association don’t want food trucks downtown. Aside from the 42-cent per square foot tax that business owners pay for the maintenance of downtown, TDPOA administrator Dana McGarry says that there are design requirements that other businesses must undergo, which mobile facilities do not have to adhere to.

“Mobile facilities do not have to undergo that often extensive design process,” said McGarry. “We have design standards included in a well-vetted document that has everything thought out. Mobile food trucks are often wrapped in signage, so sometimes you could have hundreds of feet of signage for a very small area, when there are signage regulations on size for permanent buildings.”

Red Brick Café owner Ed Samo said that although he thought the business was a good idea and likes the healthy food options that Vida-Vital would bring, he doesn’t believe downtown is the right place.

“Free enterprise is how we all began,” said Samo. “But there is an unfair advantage, and it should have to adhere to the downtown regulations on signage. We looked into a food truck several years ago, and even it would have had to abide by certain design standards. I think it’s great for the community, because it’s healthy. But it’s not for the downtown. And being right across from a restaurant, there just seems to be an unfair advantage.”

Although Vida-Vital is currently permitted to operate at the current location on Main Street across from Dust Bowl Brewery for one year, it does not seem likely that he will be allowed to continue operating there when he goes for renewal.

“I think the input has been very clear,” said Whitmore, taking in the overall negative sentiments towards allowing food trucks in the downtown core. “We’ll incorporate this input into the downtown plan update, and come back for further discussion.”

The discussions are expected to continue between the City, TDPOA and community members over the coming weeks. It remains unclear as to when a final decision will be made as to whether or not revise the current city code on food trucks in the downtown core zoning district.

“I’m just not terribly in favor of them in the area,” said Brem.