By Brenda Gazzar | PasadenaStarNews.com
MONROVIA – City officials say they plan to sit and talk with a group of food truck vendors who have filed a lawsuit over new regulations imposed on the mobile kitchens.
City Manager Scott Ochoa said he hopes a mutual agreement can be worked out to avoid a costly court fight.
The Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association last month sued the city, challenging its recently approved ordinance prohibiting food trucks from parking in Old Town and in residential areas. The new rules also prohibit the trucks from congregating on the same block.
“The mayor and I are planning to sit with them, in consultation with the city attorney, before anyone spends too much time, energy and money,” Ochoa said. “Let’s make sure we all understand each other…You have to balance what happens on a public street with what the rights of the vendors.”
A representative for the association, which represents about 120 gourmet mobile food vendors, said the city’s actions violate state law.
“What they’ve done is a blatant restraint of trade,” said attorney Jeffrey D. Dermer. “It violates both the California Constitution and the (state) vehicle code…Our position is that the law needs to be followed, and that’s the bottom line.”
The disagreement centers around the intent of the ordinance, approved unanimously by the City Council in January.
State law allows cities to pass ordinances regulating food trucks for public safety reasons. But Dermer claims cities can’t impose regulations to protect businesses from unfair competition.
He believes the city did just that, pointing to statements made around the time of the vote by former Community Development Director Alice Griselle and Councilman Tom Adams.
The Dec. 21 agenda report written by Griselle states that in Venice where food trucks are popular, merchants “have been angry over the competition, the lack of toilets and the trash that accumulates.”
But city officials say it’s a public safety issue, although other concerns were raised and discussed prior and after the council’s vote.
“I think the initial consideration, if you look at the staff report, was public safety and parking and it always has been,” Adams said. “If you have a lunch truck that blocks traffic or takes far more than its fair share of parking spaces in a downtown that is 125 years old…that is something most reasonable people would feel needs to be protected.”
Adams said he did ask staff to study whether it’s “fair for someone who pays no taxes to compete against businesses that do.”
Dermer said food trucks do pay sales tax, business licensing fees, sales taxes, and even a form of property tax or commissary fee.
At least one downtown business owner said he was pleased with the new rules.
“Each one of us is entitled to do or sell whatever we have, but I think it’s not fair that they come into the downtown and park their trucks where we hardly have any parking or no extra parking,” said Rutilio “Rudy” Castrellon of Rudy’s Mexican Food Restaurant in Old Town.
Hungry Nomad food truck owner Tina Yeretsian, who said she’d like to do business in Monrovia, added that the new rules could discourage her.
“They seem a bit extreme and a little bit unfair,” she said, “especially the one where you can’t be in the same block as another food truck.
“It’s just like another business. They’re not telling one business you can’t be on the same block as another restaurant. But everyone seems to think you can make all these crazy rules for food trucks.”