Permit Issue Raised With Napa Food Trucks

by NATALIE HOFFMAN| NapaValleyRegister.com

Kris Schalwitz, far left, of SFC BBQ puts together orders with Napa High interns Whitney Lucas, second from right, and Claudia Bakus, far right, during a Third Thursday Food Truck Event at Tulocay and Company off Devlin Road. Jorgen Gulliksen/Register

After flying under the permit radar for years, Napa’s 14 food truck operators are working with the city to set things straight.

The city of Napa Planning Commission raised concerns with the lack of food truck permitting, after granting use permits to two mobile food vendors last week.

“Is the city cracking down on food trucks? No,” Napa Planning Manager Rick Tooker said Tuesday. “It’s just a matter of managing what exists so we have an system in place that everybody knows and we can expect can be followed.”

Kris Schalwitz of SFC BBQ uses a custom installed, wood burning barbecue and smoker to cook and heat the food on his menu during a Third Thursday Food Truck Event at Tulocay and Company off Devlin Road. Jorgen Gulliksen/Register

According to city guidelines, Planning Commissioner Arthur Roosa said food trucks must apply for use permits if they’re staying in one place for more than 15 minutes at a time. Most food trucks, he said, “scout out” their own position in the city where they remain for several hours each day.

The city is talking to ‘Food Truck Friday’ organizers about getting a special permit for the large events. The gathering typically draws between 300 and 400 people to the corner of First and McKinstry streets downtown on the first Friday of each month.

This event raises the need for portable bathrooms, garbage containers, adherence to safety measures, and making concessions for people with special needs, Tooker said.

Two local food trucks — Tacos Jalisco, which parks at 2005 Redwood Road, and Taqueria Michoacan, which frequents 3259 California Boulevard — are among the first mobile Napa eateries to pick up the required city use permits for their businesses, according to officials.

The Planning Commission granted the two permit requests last week.

At its spot behind the Union 76 gas station on the southeast corner or Redwood Road and Solano Avenue, Tacos Jalisco must get rid of an illegal A-frame sign it was using to draw customers, commissioners said last week.

Meanwhile, Taqueria Michoacan — located on the east side of California Boulevard just south of Industrial Way — must improve its nighttime lighting, Planning Commissioner Arthur Roosa said.

The trucks must also stay off of the street, commissioners decided.

Virtually all of Napa’s food truck operators, most of whom operate on private property, have either recently applied for the permits or have committed to do so, according to the city.

Tooker said the business owners will shell out a one-time $500 fee for the permits.

Abel Rueda, owner Taqueria Michoacan, said he’s been in the business for 20 years and only recently learned about the city’s use permit requirements. Rueda said he’s OK with it.

Like Rueda, Francisco Ramirez, owner of Tacos Jalisco, said through a translator that he doesn’t have a problem with the city launching efforts to require the permits for food trucks.

Until recently — and like virtually all food trucks in Napa — Ramirez was selling his wares armed only with a city business license and a mobile food vendor’s permit from the Napa County Environmental Management Department, according to the city.

Nobody really noticed the lack of permit compliance until last September when an unnamed food truck owner inadvertently brought the issue to the city’s attention by applying for a city permit, according to the city.

Commissioner Tom Trzesniewski said Tuesday that he has two general concerns about the food trucks. First, he said, they’re “unsightly.”

And because cooked ingredients are transported from kitchens to the trucks where they are re-heated, it’s hard to keep food temperatures within safe ranges, he said.

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