Oakland Food Trucks Slowed by Legal Roadblocks

By Chip Johnson | SFGate.com

Since mid-June, a caravan of food trucks has rolled into North Oakland every Friday after work hours, set up shop and drawn a hefty, hungry crowd.

The event called Bites on Broadway has withstood venue changes and an outdated city ordinance to become a popular weekly attraction on 45th Street.

On Friday, the addition of a circus performance outside Studio One, a city-owned arts center, swelled the crowd to nearly 300 people. There were four food trucks to choose from and a line extending from every vehicle. The food is good, but not cheap.

“Oakland is a place that has a lot of reasons to feel sad and bruised, but this is a good opportunity to bring people together and build community,” said Beth Ann Berliner, a neighborhood resident.

While residents have embraced the weekly event, outdated city ordinances made establishing it harder than it should have been.

Because in Oakland, there are few spots outside the city’s Fruitvale district where food trucks can legally operate. The 2001 law was the epitome of bad timing, passed as the industry was expanding from taco trucks to gourmet food. Big cities across the country are seeing an increase in mobile dining and devising different strategies to deal with it.

In San Francisco, Off the Grid schedules similar events six days a week, including North Berkeley every Wednesday night.

But as recently as two weeks ago, the Oakland event was in limbo, said Karen Hester, a community events organizer who created the program.

It started on Broadway, on the side lawn at Oakland Technical High School until Oakland Unified School District officials, citing liability issues, halted the practice. From there, Hester moved the event across the street, but a neighbor complaint prompted Oakland police to shut it down early.

A week later, and after a suggestion from a city official that it be transferred to Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall, which would have ended its value as a community-building event, Hester received a week-to-week permit from the city to hold the event.

“I do think this is a good solution” Hester said of the Studio One spot. “I hope it works out for everybody,” she said, a reference to city regulators.

The Oakland City Council apparently smelled the coffee and in May agreed to begin revising the cumbersome ordinance, but not before a heated discussion on the issue.

Apparently food trucks signify different things in different parts of Oakland.