Will the New Food Truck Regulations Finally Forge Peace?

Joseph Schell
Matt Cohen of Off the Grid
The new food truck zoning regulations passed Tuesday night by the Board of Supervisors, but the question now remains: Will it ease tension between trucks and restaurants? What do these changes really mean? If the groans coming from both the brick-and-mortar and mobile restaurants sides indicate anything, it's clear that both sides made concessions.

To get the food truck perspective, we reached out to Matt Cohen, Off the Grid founder and one of the people involved in negotiating the points of the new legislation. Will things look dramatically different immediately, or will the change be gradual?

"It won't be worse, it'll just be different," Cohen says.

See also: City Aims to Create Buffer Zone Between Restaurants and Food Trucks
Restaurant Owner Succeeds In Blocking JapaCurry Truck

The single biggest change of the new laws that should benefit both sides is the elimination of the "like-food" clause. This allowed a food truck to sell near a restaurant as long as it didn't sell similar dishes, and while that sounds like a reasonable distinction, the definition was so subjective that it resulted in a lot of arguing. Cohen says that people were unhappy with the implementation, including the city for having to mediate the disagreements.

"The elimination of the like food thing is good for everyone," he says. "The permit process should go much faster, and it removes much subjectivity."

The concession is that trucks have to keep a distance of 75 feet from all brick-and-mortar restaurants. While this provides clarity, it also means that getting a permit in a densely populated area like the FiDi is now nearly impossible.

The one area where Cohen feels concern is that there is currently no provision for a waiver that allows food trucks within the 75-foot radius in situations where all the business in range agree they want the truck there. While there is currently no timeline for this exception, the Office of Supervisor Scott Wiener says that this issue is currently being worked on.

But the law doesn't void the permits of trucks that currently have them. So while there won't be any new trucks showing up downtown, the ones that are there will continue to operate normally, as well as trucks that do business on private property like SoMa StrEat Food Park. Nor will Off the Grid see any changes. In other words, the changes in the law affect the growth and enforcement of food trucks more than they'll cause a reduction.

"I think it's a compromise," says Cohen. "I think that its going to be better than what we have right now."

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