City Aims to Create Buffer Zone Between Restaurants and Food Trucks

The acrimonious battle between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks might come to end this year if the Board of Supervisors adopts some zoning changes later this month.

Under the proposed zoning changes, introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, food trucks will be able to park in new locations, like hospitals and colleges, but will also be muzzled in from parking too close to restaurants.

somastreet.jpg
Lou Bustamante
Food trucks, like the ones pictured here in SOMA, will have to stay at least 75 feet away from restaurants under a proposed city ordinance

The proposed legislation cleared its first hurdle on Monday. The Board of Supervisors' land use and economic development committee voted 3-0 to send the legislation before the full board on June 18.

Here are some key changes, per Wiener's office:

*Food trucks can park on the street, but have to stay at least 75 feet from existing restaurants until 10 p.m. Trucks were previously allowed to obtain permits to park almost anywhere in downtown, as long as they weren't selling similar food to nearby restaurants. The ambiguity of what the city defined as similar food lead to many of the problems, says Rob Black of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which represents both brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks.

"I think there was an interest in moving away from very subjective definitions to a more clear buffer zone," Black adds.

* Food Trucks can park in colleges and hospital campuses parking lots -- a place where they were previously forbidden. It is still up to the institutions to decide if it wants them there.

* Food trucks will be allowed to park within 500 of middle schools and either 1,000 feet or 750 feet for high schools. Food trucks are currently banned from certain neighborhoods, like the Mission, because of a 1,500-foot buffer zone restriction around middle schools and high schools.

* Make it harder for chains, like Burger King's Manhattan food truck, to start food trucks.

* Give the SFMTA's meter maids the power to enforce permit violations.

The amendments to the planning, public works, and transportation codes took two years of negotiations between the parties, says Black of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, an industry-lobbying group.

The friction between the two parties became acrimonious in 2011 when a several lawyered-up restaurants and property owners from downtown blocked some food trucks from operating in downtown through a series of appeals. Under the proposed changed, restaurant owners can still appeal, however Black said he hopes that won't happen anymore if the legislation passes.

Both parties have been unhappy with the old process. Restaurants claimed that food trucks were stealing their customers; meanwhile they were stuck paying premium rental rates for their downtown locations. Food truck operators said they were following the law and felt victimized solely because they were giving customers more lunch options, such as Indian burritos from the Kasa Indian truck.

"I think you have a situation in which you have groups of people who are not going to be totally satisfied," he says. "I think what's has happened is created a true compromise. It provides a better understanding of what those rules are."




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