Santa Monica, CA: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em, Food Trucks Could be Here to Stay

A food truck at the Bergamot Station Art Center in Santa Monica | Credit Gary Kavanagh

By Saba Hamedy | Santa Monica Patch

A food truck at the Bergamot Station Art Center in Santa Monica | Credit Gary Kavanagh

Mixed opinions about food truck lots at most recent Santa Monica Planning Commission meeting. Proposed regulations head to the City Council for approval.

The debate rages on about the impacts food truck lot events have on the community and local brick-and-mortar businesses, but the likelihood they will operate permanently in Santa Monica appears better than ever.

Despite opposition from Main Street merchants and residents, the Planning Commission has recommended to the City Council that it allow up to four weekly events in Santa Monica. For the first time, the lots would operate under new city codes, rather than with temporary permits.

The commission’s proposal is to allow one off-street food truck lot per week from 5–10 p.m. on Main Street and three events from 8 a.m.–11 p.m., on Pico, Santa Monica and Lincoln boulevards.

The proposed rules would also impose space restrictions: lots would have to be at least 15,000 square feet. Additionally, each food truck would need 2,000 square feet and each lot would have to have a maximum of 200 square feet for seating.

City staffers’ position is the food trucks “enhance pedestrian experience” and offer a “variety of inexpensive food options.” At their Wednesday meeting, some commissioners agreed.

“A lot of people come out of their homes and attend these food truck events and make the area more social,” said commissioner Jennifer Kennedy.

Toby Smith, the executive director of the California Heritage Museum, said a weekly event on Main Street, helps keep the museum open. He said proceeds from the Tuesday event—estimated at $104,000 in two years—generate a substantial portion of the museum’s operating revenue.

According to Matt Geller, president of Southern California Mobile Food Vendor Association, in the two years since the food trucks and the Heritage Museum have partnered up, they have raised about $104,000.

“It seems like almost once a week one of our visitors makes a comment about the event,” Santa Monica resident and California Heritage Museum assistant Mike Snow told the commission. “It’s a community event—people like meeting their neighbors, they enjoying bringing their out-of-town visitors.”

But Anthony Schmitt, chairman of Main Street Business Improvement Association, called it a “sad state of affairs” that restaurants are pitted in competition with businesses that don’t pay rent.

Commissioners Ted Winterer and Jim Ries—who voted against the proposal—expressed doubts, too.

“I’m supportive of brick-and-mortar businesses,” said Ries. “I would like to vote against this straight out, but at the same time I hear a number of $104,000 in fundraising done for the museum.”

Winterer was more concerned about the lack of flexibility in passing the amendment. “I can’t support anything that’s going to be on a permanent basis,” he said. Instead, Winterer suggested there be an annual permit, so the city could regularly evaluate the events.

The debate isn’t new. Since they first arrived in Santa Monica two years ago, the food truck events have seen mixed responses from the community.

Currently, the city only issues temporary permits to food trucks that operate on private property. The permits regulate operations, such as lighting, noise and hours.

Coming up with a permanent solution to regulate the lots’ operations has been on the City Council’s agenda since the spring of last year. In November 2011, the council took one step toward that goal by adopting a new ordinance to bar vending on Main Street between Ocean Park Boulevard and Marine Street between 1 and 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.