Modesto, CA: Saturday Shorts – Modesto Ponders Regulating its Food Trucks

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By Contributor  |

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MODESTO — Modesto has a number of taco trucks and a cupcake truck, but has not experienced an explosion of mobile food vendors like the variety seen in Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento and other big cities.

Nonetheless, we think and hope they’ll be coming.

We agree with City Manager Greg Nyhoff that now is the time for the city to discuss whether and how it wants to regulate these mobile businesses — before there is a problem.

Some might argue they shouldn’t be regulated at all, beyond meeting the food preparation safety requirements that are monitored by the county Department of Environmental Resources. But mobile food vendors can be unfair competitors to brick-and-mortar restaurants, especially if they pull their truck right in front of a restaurant and even use that restaurant’s tables. Some downtown businesses say that’s what happened a couple of years ago. That vendor is no longer around.

Currently the city allows stationary food vendors — trucks that stay in the same place — to operate on private property in areas with industrial zones. The question now is whether to have such limits on how close together mobile vendors might be in other places, such as downtown.

A staff report that went to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee this week said state courts say that cities cannot just ban food trucks from selling along their streets. But they can have some reasonable regulations regarding time and place. Modesto is looking at Elk Grove’s ordinance as a model.

The city manager and most of the current City Council are pro-business. They want to encourage entrepreneurs, including those starting or expanding mobile businesses. But as was evident from the discussion at Monday’s committee meeting, they also have to recognize the needs of existing businesses.

It should be an interesting discussion. The proposal is in its early phase, so there isn’t yet a draft ordinance. Those who want to weigh in early should call city Senior Planner Paul Liu at(209) 577-5282 or email

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