The Chronicle and the GGRA Go After Food Trucks

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John Birdsall
Nearby restaurants blocked Doc's of the Bay from parking at several spots it had applied for.

The Chron story, which makes the owner of Chronicle-reporter watering hole Tempest Bar its primary character, reports that the spread of food trucks is harming restaurants, like Tempest Bar, that are located near the spots where the trucks park. 

The other major opponent quoted in the story: Golden Gate Restaurant Association president Rob Black. Black worries that the city's the newly revised permitting process, which switched control of street-vending permits over to the Department of Public Works and reduced permitting fees by 60 to 80 percent, is letting food trucks spread unchecked across the city.

Reporter Stacy Finz, however, doesn't quote any food truck operators in the story. And what her story also fails to report is that under previous president Kevin Westlye, the GGRA endorsed the current change to the regulations, which give brick-and-mortar restaurants greater --  not less -- power to deny food trucks access to a location near them.

The new process requires food trucks applying for specific street parking spots to notify businesses within 300 feet of each proposed spot. If anyone contests the location, a hearing must be held. (Food trucks who park on private land -- paying rent to the land owner -- do not have to seek approval from the city to do so.)

So there's a reason only 16 food trucks have passed through the permitting gauntlet in the year since the street-food permits have been revised, as even the Chron reports. The city has promised to revoke the street-parking permits of anyone who abuses their privileges, and a permit holder of a contested spot must undergo a public hearing every year, so the location is by no means permanent. 

The Tempest Bar complains to the Chronicle about how the 5M Wednesday-Friday Off the Grid gathering is killing his lunchtime business, but the OTG location he's protesting isn't even permitted through the new process -- Cohen told SFoodie it's considered a special event fee, permitted through the city's Interdepartmental Committee on Traffic and Transportation

What has been clear since the early days of the food truck movement is that trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants have some reconciling to do. But falsely characterizing the city's restaurants as being powerless to stop competition from nearby trucks -- and characterizing the trucks as come-and-go, faddish businesses with few economic responsibilities -- is not going to ease tensions.

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I guess it's a lot easier to whine and bitch and try to get the government to intercede than it is to actually compete. If your business isn't doing well in comparison to a truck then you're doing something wrong that they're doing right. Look at the problem and fix it yourself.

That said, a lot of trucks are either ridiculously overpriced or inconsistently located (if I never know where or when something will be around, how can I patronize them?) as it is. I don't need the latest food fad served to me from a truck painted by an artist I actually recognize (or your friend who is also a DJ, and a screen printer, and whatever else sounds hip) for $10-12.

What we actually need is cheap, delicious food served everywhere from carts and trucks. I mean, why can't I get a decent churro or soft pretzel (no, that chain-run frozen shit for $4 that you only see around Union Square doesn't count) let alone some takoyaki or satay? The bacon hot dog guys are some of the only people doing it right.

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As an aside, the author of this post is such a shameless advocate that it's almost funny he critiques the Chronicle for not interviewing any vendors.

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I'm not really that enthused about a bunch of panel vans smogging up our city cloaked as mobile restaurants.  Or to possibly lose a parking space so some douchebag can eat a $10 burrito while he stands on the sidewalk.  It's not really fair to lay on all kinds of rules about what kind of stores can open up in a neighborhood, and then give a permit to a food truck vendor without passing through those same rules.  I.e., in neighborhoods that are over-saturated with restaurants, you typically need a variance to take a non-food retail space and make it into a food space.  But nothing, to my knowledge (tell me if I'm wrong) prevents a food truck vendor from operating in an otherwise saturated area unless someone complains.  The purpose of those regulations, by the way, was to prevent every neighborhood from turning into the Marina (i.e., fun, but lacking in basic neighborhood amenities and services for residents). 


1.  Both Rob Black and Kevin Westlye are/were paid Executive Directors, not elected presidents of the board.  They respond to what their boards tell them is going on and what to do.2.  There is nothing contradictory between agreeing to initial legislation pointing to a way forward and then later coming back to the table when the legislation isn't working.3.  It makes no sense for the city to streamline the permitting process for food trucks, and not enforce it, or any other laws pertaining to the trucks, while at the same time continuing to tighten the regulatory noose around the brick and mortars' necks.  Ask yourselves, who employs people, who pays the most in taxes, who puts money into the local economy and employs local tradespeople, etc. etc.


Please, please don't forget our Brick & Mortar establishments enhance our neighborhoods, support our local fund raisers and must hurdle innumerable permits, regulations and restrictions just to stay in place.  Yes, we love the trucks but at the end of the day, they drive away.


Good points! 

We need to remind GGRA and certain restaurant owners that government is not in the business of protecting them from competition. 

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