Though the mobile-dining roundup known as Food Truck Friday was only a few months old in early 2011, everything seemed to be in place to make this the year of the food truck in Napa. Everything, that is, except city-issued use permits.
In the event’s brief flowering, Food Truck Fridays were drawing about nine food trucks and 400 diners to a First Street lot near the Oxbow Public Market before being shut down in mid-March for code violations and the absence of an event permit.
Among the cited problems: The location at 728 First St. was not wheelchair accessible; fire pits were too close to canopies and trucks; and vendors from outside Napa needed to have Napa food permits.
Additionally, customers were bringing their own alcohol to the event, serving it themselves and no one was checking IDs.
The event, like many of its participating vendors, was also in need of a permit from the city. Events outside the normal operation of a business are required to have a temporary use permit from the city, even if held on private property like Food Truck Fridays were, according to the city.
Immediately after the event came to a halt, the city said it would try to find an alternate location for it while the owner of the event grounds, Andrew Siegal, obtained the necessary permits to continue Food Truck Fridays.
Staff said it never had a problem with the popular “food rave,” as some called the event, but rather with the site. If the reported problems were fixed and a permit obtained, foodies from the Napa Valley could once again get their gourmet fix the first Friday of each month, officials said.
Siegal, who also owns the Dim Sum Charlie’s food truck that serves food at the First Street site most days, said it could take months and more than $10,000 to meet the city’s demands.
At year’s end, no alternate location had been found and no applications to allow for the event to occur had been filed with the city.
In February, the Napa Planning Commission began to address the overwhelming lack of properly permitted trucks in the city by approving use permits for two of the city’s 14 mobile food vendors.
Though the trucks had city business licenses and permits from the Napa County Environmental Management Department, few if any knew they were also required to have a city use permit, a rule that the city had not been enforcing.
In April, the Napa Chamber of Commerce approached the city and asked it to examine what it said was an outdated food truck ordinance, beginning a review process that took up the remainder of the year.
The chamber suggested a group of stakeholders, including food truck and restaurant owners, residents and others involved in the mobile restaurant industry, meet to work on a new ordinance.
The group met several times over the course of the summer to discuss where trucks should be allowed to operate, what they should be allowed to look like, if they should provide restrooms to customers, whether they must relocate after a certain period of time and other possible regulations.
In the meantime, Napa Valley College ousted its cafeteria service for fall semester and opted to bring trucks on campus so students could purchase food from a variety of outlets. The pilot program could continue in the spring.
In the fall, issues involving the regulation of food trucks were brought to the Planning Commission and City Council, which gave their input on about 20 points that could be included in the still-pending ordinance.
Some council members favored the idea of trucks providing restrooms for customers if the truck provides a seating area that encourages diners to stay at the premises for a while. Additionally, some council members said they think the trucks should move from their operating locations at night.
City staff is working on a draft ordinance that could be available for public comment and review in January.