Santa Monica, CA: Food Trucks on Main Street Get a Reprieve—At Least for Now

A food truck at the Bergamot Station Art Center Credit Gary Kavanagh

By Reza Gostar |

A food truck at the Bergamot Station Art Center Credit Gary Kavanagh

In a unanimous decision Tuesday night, the Santa Monica City Council voted to extend the Temporary Use Permit for the Heritage Museum Food Vending Event on Main Street until a permitting process for off-street food vendors is formally adopted.

While no decisive action on regulating mobile food vendors was taken, the council decided to look into ways to restrict food trucks from parking in certain areas on-street in the future.

“I would rather have [Santa Monica families] at food trucks rather than McDonald’s or Taco Bell,” Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis told the council. “You go to McDonald’s and there is no communal experience … I think food trucks present an affordable option for people.”

Not everyone had positive feedback about the Main St. event. A survey of businesses around the area found that half of them reported a decline in business during the Tuesday event, Housing and Economic Development Director Andy Agle said. Brick-and-mortar restaurants in the area reported an unfair playing field in light of the mobile food vendors, he said.

Despite the survey results and concerns from local restaurants, the council was mostly supportive of the off-street food truck event held on Main St.

“I do think the experiment at the Heritage Museum has been successful,” Mayor Richard Bloom told the council. “My major concern and [the main source of] complaints is in the most congested area of the city, and that is in downtown. … We need to focus some energy there and get creative.”

In its effort to regulate on-street food trucks, the city plans to evaluate whether to draft a proposal to the state Legislature to amend the California Vehicle Code. The proposed change could grant local governments, including the city of Santa Monica, greater regulatory power over on-street mobile food vendors.

At present, food trucks operate under both state and local ordinances. However, the California Vehicle Code limits the power of local governments to “regulate mobile food or non-food vendors on public streets,” according to a staff report.

Currently, a city’s power is limited to creating no parking zones, reducing parking space and restricting the parking time of any vehicle, including food trucks.

During Tuesday’s special council meeting, SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association CEO Matthew Geller offered his association’s services while the city continues evaluating how to regulate food trucks.

“We opened a food truck lot on January 5, 2010, and we were shut down [the next day], but the city of Santa Monica saw how important it was to the community,” Geller told Santa Monica Patch.

“We were put on the next agenda meeting. … We had a food truck lot within nine months of that initial meeting on a temporary use permit, and here we are 18 months later. We’ve had a successful lot and a great community event that [the city is] excited about, and they’re keeping it going,” Geller said. “Interacting with Santa Monica has been one of the highlights of the association’s dealings with cities.”

Santa Monica Deputy Police Chief Al Venegas, whose major concern is crowds gathering around trucks when bars close, was also pleased with the council’s desire to further regulate on-street food trucks.

“One of the city’s main goals is traffic safety … and pedestrian safety trying to cross the street to frequent these trucks,” Venegas told Santa Monica Patch. “The main concern is the popularity with trucks and the crowds that gather around them late on Friday and Saturday nights. … It’s not only the complaints of noise and congregations of large amounts people around them, but it’s also the fights and the assaultive types of behavior.”

Venegas said the easiest solution may be regulating food trucks so that they would be open during more reasonable business hours.

“[Food trucks are] taking advantage of these bars letting everyone out,” Venegas told Patch. “And it’s business, I understand that. I just want to make it safer for everybody, that’s all. … [The council’s desire to increase regulation is] a good first step in trying to find a happy medium.”