By ALICIA ROBINSON | The Press-Enterprise
Riverside residents who want to sample Korean-Mexican fusion tacos or get a made-to-order grilled cheese sandwich curbside should prepare for a long drive.
A new generation of food trucks has exploded in popularity in Los Angeles and Orange counties, with dedicated eaters following their favorites on Twitter. But in the Inland area, those trucks face onerous regulations that nearly amount to a ban.
The Riverside City Council on Tuesday will vote on new food truck rules that essentially follow the Riverside County health department’s strict guidelines.
Trucks could sell hot, freshly prepared foods at special events but otherwise, the rules would only allow sale of pre-packaged foods and drinks, and trucks couldn’t operate near schools or parks or within 300 feet of a restaurant.
Councilman Steve Adams, who proposed the new rules, said they were prompted by issues with ice cream vendors. Last year, a boy was expelled for bringing to school a toy gun he had bought from an ice cream truck, Adams said.
“In the past we’ve had a lot of problems with ice cream vendors selling drug paraphernalia, toys and things other than ice cream,” so the proposed rules would prohibit that, he said.
Safety is another concern, Adams said, because kids sometimes run into the street when the truck comes by. The rules would require vendors to park at the curb to do business.
The city’s rules also would require any mobile food vendor to have a permit from the county health department, and that’s where the restrictions get tight.
Under the county code, “a mobile food facility shall not prepare, cook, roast, grill, fry, bake, heat, portion, assemble or boil food,” and unpackaged foods are essentially limited to carnival fare such as hot dogs, popcorn and snow cones.
That means no Korean tacos, no South Indian dosas, and no New England lobster rolls.
County offices were closed Friday, so health department officials could not be reached for comment.
To Justin Nelson, a UC Riverside graduate student who wrote about the city’s proposed regulations on his transportation blog, the limitations don’t make sense — especially in Riverside, where officials talk about developing public spaces and nightlife.
“Everyone has this kind of stereotypical image of the dingy taco truck that shows up at the construction site, but if you look out there, there’s this sort of really interesting renaissance going on,” Nelson said.
“If we want to make this kind of walkable, livable downtown, food trucks are a part of that.”
Michele Grant, co-owner of the Los Angeles-based Grilled Cheese Truck, said food trucks can be a fun, social experience because people waiting in line get to know each other, and they follow their favorite trucks to parts of town they might not otherwise have visited.
“I think it would be great” for the Inland area, she said. “We’ve had people e-mailing us constantly asking when we are coming out to Riverside and other points in the Inland Empire.”
Food trucks also can be a good business opportunity because they don’t have the same costs and constraints as opening a restaurant, said Matt Geller, CEO of the 118-member Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association.
His group has questioned some cities’ rules limiting food truck operations. A city could say that hot food trucks pose a danger to the public, Geller said, but “It’d be a tough argument to make because it’s going on in Los Angeles” successfully.
Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos said health risks are a concern, and “We believe our laws should be consistent with the county.”
Before the city’s new regulations were proposed, it had none governing food trucks, though trucks still had to follow county health guidelines.
As to whether the city could make its own rules to allow hot food trucks, Priamos said, “I’d have to look into that.”