Mobile food vendors are officially not permitted in Turlock’s downtown core as the City Council unanimously voted to prohibit them Tuesday evening.
While there was no disagreement in the room over whether the food truck cuisine is good or not, the point of contention proved to be whether they would be good for the downtown. The future of mobile food trucks in downtown Turlock rested entirely in the hands of the Turlock City Council as the Planning Commission failed to reach an agreement to recommend to the council, an indication of the controversial nature of the item. Individuals from the public on both sides of the issue took to the podium Tuesday evening to make their case.
“I think what other cities are finding is that downtowns are starting to become darlings of communities again and certainly food is a big emphasis. I think part of that whole food scene is this very popular food truck element that has been brought into so many downtowns very successfully,” said Jeani Ferrari, who worked on Turlock’s downtown revitalization efforts roughly 15 years ago. “I think our downtown is being recognized as a food area and that just adds one more layer of interest and texture to our downtown.”
Ferrari also read a letter from Hillary Smith of downtown business La Mo Café in support of the food trucks. However, a fellow downtown brick and mortar business owner vocalized opposition. Ed Samo, co-owner of On Broadway with Two Guys, is a self proclaimed food truck lover but said he feels permitting them downtown would be “an unfair disadvantage” to the established businesses that have paid their dues to the historic district in the form of property taxes, employing individuals, and the like.
“The reason I say that is because in 2004 when we moved here, from the railroad tracks on it was a ghost town. There was nothing down here,” said Samo. “So now that all of the brick and mortars have laid all of the groundwork and have brought all of these people to what was years ago a dead downtown, now all of a sudden there’s this huge interest in the food trucks to come in… if it was such a big deal where were you years ago when downtown was struggling?”
Ironically, there are presently no food truck businesses with active permits to operate downtown at this time.
“We really don’t have any mobile food facilities that are operating in the area that we are proposing to prohibit them,” said Deputy Director of Development Services and Planning Debbie Whitmore.
While the council members unanimously approved the ban of the trucks in the downtown core, downtown core transitional, and office residential overlay districts, Council Member Steven Nascimento said the initial discussion gave him “heart burn.”
“I love food trucks. I think they add a lot of diversity to our food scene and they can add a lot of value to a downtown area if done correctly and so I really did struggle with it early on,” said Nascimento.
However, what changed his mind is that the trucks will still be permitted for special downtown events and that existing food plazas, like the East Avenue area that plays host to several Mexican food trucks, will not be impacted.
“They may not be appropriate on Main Street but there is nothing that is going to stop me from walking a block to get good food truck food,” said Nascimento. “I think it still allows them to service the downtown are without being parked on Main Street.”
If a new business was interested in obtaining a food truck permit, the rules to set up shop would be very specific as outlined by Whitmore Tuesday evening.
“Mobile food facilities are operated pretty much by state law,” she explained, noting that state law does allow cities to regulate the time, place, and manner of the operation of these types of facilities.
Whitmore explained that street vendors and mobile food vendors are considered two separate entities. Street vendors acquire permits through the police department and are allowed to navigate throughout the city and operate their business there as long as they do not exceed 30 minutes on private property, granted they have the permission of the property owners. Mobile food vendors must obtain a different permit and operate on private property for more than 30 minutes at a time.