Doc's of the Bay Owner on SF's New Food Truck Regulations: 'The Law Is Flawed'

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John Birdsall
The Doc's of the Bay truck.
As I chronicled in this week's food lead story, the San Francisco Board of Appeals last week struck down two street-parking permits that the Department of Public Works had granted to Kasa's kati roller truck and Doc's of the Bay after an arduous eight-month permitting process. Back in March, Doc's owners Lauren Smith and Zak Silverman camped out in the rain for three days to apply for their top choices for parking spots they wanted to build into a route. The DPW struck down several of their permits during the initial hearing process, and during the Dec. 14 Board of Appeals meeting, downtown restaurants and building managers blocked two more.

The day after the hearing, I spoke to Silverman about San Francisco's new street-food regulations.

SFoodie: So how many permits do you have left after this process?
Silverman: We came away from the hearing with three of our five locations [a twice-a-week spot in the Financial District that remained uncontested, and two weekend nights in the Mission]. Ultimately, we're concerned even for those. Last night was the first time so far that any board in San Francisco has had the opportunity to evaluate the law. We were really discouraged by the DPW's presentation at the hearing, which gave us the sense that the permits we do have are liable to be taken from us at any point based on oversights that make the law rotten.

For instance, the parking clause that says we have to abide by all current and existing parking regulations. [Background: One of the grounds on which the Board of Appeals rejected the permits was that they were multi-hour permits for one-hour parking spots.] That was a known flaw from the get-go, and board member Mike Garcia said that, on those grounds alone, this law should have been fixed before.

We still have a location at Washington Street next to the Transamierca building, but it gives us cause for concern that we can be reported for violating the law and our permit can be revoked. Everyone knows that food trucks are breaking the law by parking at these parking spaces for more than an hour at a time. But that was glossed over in the new law.

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Doc's of the Bay/Facebook
Zak Silverman.
What impact do you think the Board of Appeals decision will have on the regulations?
The board has ultimate authority over the Department of Public Works, so if it says the law is flawed, as far as we are concerned, the law is flawed. Essentially, we're going to be using a permit that was granted to us because it didn't go before the board -- if it had, it would have been turned down on the grounds that it was flawed. So as far as we're concerned, the law is flawed. Before the hearing, I was worried about losing. Now I'm worried about the value of what I won.

I'm feeling like the canary in the coal mine. We had the opportunity to be the first ones in the door with this new permitting process, and so we took it. I'd estimate that, all together from the time we started investigating locations, that we've spent $10,000, not counting labor. That doesn't take into account the revenue we lost while waiting for this hearing. If we had dropped our application for these two downtown spots back in April when we first got objections to them, we'd could have been seling at the TransAmerica building and in the Mission for six months. That's a huge amount of forgone revenue. The reason we rode it out, and didn't drop the spots, is because we thought we had a great case. But we didn't have a chance to make a case to the board based on the specific differences between our truck and the food those restaurants sell. It was struck down because the fundamental process was still rotten.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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