LA, CA: Do Food Trucks Need More Regulation? [video]

Food Trucks! | Photo: thetalesend/Flickr/Creative Commons License

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Food Trucks! | Photo: thetalesend/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Pack it up, Portland. Move along, Manhattan. Nothing to see here, New Orleans. Los Angeles has officially won the food truck revolution by being the American city most amenable to the not-so-altruistic meals on wheels. From here on out, it’s nothing but a battle for runner-up.

At least, that’s what the folks over at The Daily Caller are saying. How have they reached such a conclusion? Not necessarily by tracking the number of food trucks, the quality of dishes provided, or looking at how much dough they bring in. Instead, to form their opinion they’re simply looking at city laws and how pro-food truck they are.

Other cities, you see, aren’t so friendly:

San Diego, Sacramento and Oakland have enacted laws that keep food trucks away from popular commercial areas where customers want them to be. Similar laws exist in Philadelphia, San Antonio and Denver. In San Francisco, a food truck can only vend in a particular location if the restaurants within 300 feet of that location allow it. Sacramento is currently considering an ordinance that will create a 200-foot buffer zone between food trucks and restaurants. Chicago just passed a similar ordinance, which threatens to destroy its burgeoning food-truck industry by making most of downtown off limits. Even larger buffer zones exist in cities like New Orleans (600 feet) and Pittsburgh (500 feet).

Which isn’t to say that L.A. has been immune to this kind of food truck vs. restaurant fight over the years. The various ordinances and “buffer zones” laws mentioned above remind me a bit of Supervisor Gloria Molina’s abandoned bid to punish food truck operators, and that infamous Wilshire Food Truck Battle of 2010.

A summary: Restaurant owners at Museum Square on Wilshire — near LACMA, E!, and a whole bunch of other office buildings — didn’t like the fact that their steady lunch rush business was being cut off at the knees by the influx of food trucks. So when the city of L.A. refused to help them through zoning regulatory means, they took matters into their own hands with the half-gutsy/half-brainy guerrilla tactic of using beater cars to park in all of the available spaces on the block. A video of the affair is a minor classic shown above.

The cost of plugging the meters throughout the day and paying the occasional parking ticket were apparently a pittance compared to what they were losing to the trucks. This kind of back-and-forth led to an overall bad feeling in the area, highlighted by calls for boycott the restaurants. But soon enough, as the city continued to hold off regulating the trucks, the beaters ceased taking up spots and restaurants just kind of lived with it. Last I checked, there are still functioning sit-down eateries on the block.

This, ultimately, is the conundrum other cities are facing right now: Is it fair that restaurants have to pay rent and the other overhead costs that come with creating an honest-to-goodness eatery while food trucks can just pull up and set up shop? If these new hip trucks start putting long-time independent establishments out of business, is that ultimately a good thing?

My own personal opinion: Tough luck, restaurants. The only constant is change. If you can’t bring in business because someone sets up a taco stand or overpriced grilled cheese truck outside your business, you really had nothing to offer in the first place. Cities, therefore, should encourage this kind of expansion rather than limit it.

But enough about me. What do you think?