By Peter Hegarty | InsideBayArea.com
ALAMEDA — About 1,400 people attend the weekly food truck gatherings at Alameda South Shore Center, creating a “significant” increase in business for the center’s retailers, the Planning Board will hear Tuesday when it reviews guidelines for the trucks.
The city also has received no complaints from anyone about the gatherings, including from business owners or business associations, despite some voicing fears that allowing the trucks would undercut brick-and-mortar establishments when city officials adopted the guidelines just over a year ago.
Along with Alameda South Shore Center, the city has allowed the trucks to operate at specific times at the Harbor Bay Business Park and two spots on Park Street, as well as on Central Avenue near Eighth Street.
“They offer a variety of food that you can’t get in a lot of places,” said Nina Oden, 27, of Oakland when she visited the South Shore event on a recent Saturday. “I did not even know these trucks were here until I showed up.”
Her friend, Terri Salcedo, 34, said she will often visit trucks when she spots them near her home in Oakland or when she visits San Francisco.
“It’s different than going to a restaurant,” Salcedo said. “You’re outdoors and there’s more of a communal feeling with other people. It can make you feel that you are part of a community.”
The City Council adopted the draft guidelines for the trucks in December 2011 — just after they were backed by the Planning Board — so that the municipal code would comply with state law, which allows the trucks to set up on any public street as long as a vendor meets local safety requirements.
The aim of the local guidelines was to provide the city with extra control.
Among the guidelines, which officials decided to revisit within a year, was a restriction that the trucks could not set up near an elementary or middle school.
Eric Fonstein, the city’s development manager, said the gatherings have proved especially popular at Alameda South Shore Center.
“The shopping center conducted a month-long, internal analysis last October and found an average attendance of 1,400 people at the events with a significant increase in overall sales for the center’s retailers,” Fonstein said in a background report for the Planning Board.
He is now urging the board to drop the annual review of the gatherings and the renewal requirements for the vendors.
Public Works Director Matt Naclerio also should be allowed to determine where the trucks can operate at the former Alameda Naval Air Station on a case-by-case basis, Fonstein said.
Currently, the trucks must park next to a sidewalk at least five feet wide at the former base, a requirement that can only be met at a handful of locations.
Food truck gatherings, such as “Off the Grid” in Berkeley and Oakland, have become especially popular with food fans and young people, who spread the word about times and locations via Twitter and Facebook.
Some trucks specialize and are staffed by up-and-coming chefs, or chefs who have lost their jobs in the tough economy.
The gathering in Berkeley takes place each Wednesday evening near Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street in the heart of the city’s “Gourmet Ghetto,” a neighborhood that contains Chez Panisse and the Cheese Board collective.
Among the trucks that have visited Alameda is Sanguchon, which specializes in Peruvian food. It was launched by Chef Carlos Altamirano, who also owns the Michelin Star winning La Costanera restaurant in Montara Beach.