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Planning Commission approves food truck ban in split vote
food truck
After months of discussions, the Planning Commission has voted in favor of placing a ban on mobile food facilities in Downtown Turlock. If approved by the City Council, food trucks would not be allowed to operate in the downtown district except during special events or the Farmers Market. - photo by CARA HALLAM/The Journal

With just one vote making the difference, the Turlock Planning Commission made their final decision to approve an amendment to the City’s zoning ordinance that places a ban on mobile food facilities within the downtown district.

Struggling with the decision over the past few months, the Planning Commission has been torn over whether or not they would continue allowing food trucks to operate in Downtown Turlock after members of the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association requested that the City discontinue issuing the permits.

The issue first came to light after the City of Turlock issued a permit to vendor Christopher Shaun, who was set to operate his nutrition-based food truck Vida-Vital at the corner of Main Street and Broadway. After receiving the request from the TDPOA, the City Council opted to place a moratorium on food truck permits, bringing a halt to allowing any more food trucks from operating in the downtown core until the City had fully reviewed the ordinance. Although Shaun was allowed to receive his permit and operate at the location, continual setbacks have kept the young entrepreneur from starting up his business.

While the issue has been heavily contested by other local food truck vendors, including the owners of Saucy Girls, which also operates on Main Street, the commission and city staff have repeatedly reported that they have received only a few comments from members of the community who were in favor of food trucks operating in the district. Those who were opposed to allowing food trucks in downtown, however, have continually made their arguments known to the commission, citing unfair business advantages and health concerns among many reasons why the City should put a ban in place.

During Thursday’s meeting, City Planning Director Debbie Whitmore said that the City could not make any decisions based on competition due to state law, and that all decisions made by the commission must be based on matters relating to land use. But after reviewing several of the goals that were developed by the City in 2003, including “the current and future success of Downtown Turlock by preserving and enhancing its unique historic character,” some of the planning commissioners were convinced that food trucks would be detrimental to the future of downtown.

“I just don’t think they fit in with the 2003 goals,” said Commissioner Alice Pollard.

Commissioner and Chair Soraya Fregosi said that while she acknowledged the goals that had been set for Downtown Turlock, she felt the new ban on mobile food facilities was too restrictive as it would include several areas of the downtown district, not just Main Street.

“It’s just too restrictive for me,” said Fregosi. “Had it just been Main, then I think I would feel better about it but since it includes several other areas, this is just too much restriction in my opinion.”

Also against the ban were commissioners Jeanine Bean and Victor Pedroza, who offered a motion to not exclude food trucks from operating in any of the downtown areas. Although Pedroza, Bean and Fregosi voted in favor of this motion, hoping to allow food trucks to operate throughout the district, the remaining four commissioners voted “no.”

After the motion failed, a second motion was made that would approve the ban on mobile food facilities, passing with a 4-3 vote. Although the Commission voted in favor of the ban, it will ultimately be left to the City Council’s discretion as to whether or not the zoning ordinance will be amended with the ban in place.

“I personally do agree that food trucks have a very important part in the life of a city, as they’re very popular and often have food choices that are also economical,” said Fregosi. “This has been a difficult one for me, and we’ve been spending a lot of time on this…but I guess that’s that.”

In addition to the Downtown Overlay District Regulations, the zoning ordinance update also included changes to accessory structures, off-street parking and loading regulations, nonconforming structures and uses, wireless communications, and insurance requirements for outdoor dining establishments.

The City Council will review the all of the recommendations made by the Planning Commission, and are expected to make the final decisions in the near future.