Just as Sacramento food truck operators and owners of brick and mortar restaurants reached a compromise over where and when the trucks can operate, another battle is brewing in the statewide mobile food arena.
An advocacy group in Southern California is not happy with Sacramento's proposed regulations, which it calls illegal, and has vowed to fight any efforts by Sacramento truck owners and city officials to push for state legislation giving cities the right to regulate food trucks.
The debate over proposed state rules is widening the gap between two factions of local food truck owners: those who favor negotiating with the city and those who say city restrictions trample their constitutional rights.
Now, a Southern California group of mobile food truck operators has jumped into the fight. Matt Geller, chief executive officer of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, recently sent a scathing email to several members of the newly formed California Mobile Food Association, or CMFA, in Sacramento, protesting the fledgling association's support of state legislation allowing cities to decide how to regulate food trucks.
Geller wrote his letter in response to comments made at the Aug. 1 Roseville City Council meeting by Chris Jarosz, president of CMFA, who said the group was working with state Assembly members to pass a law giving cities the right to regulate food trucks.
Jarosz, owner of the Wicked Wich food truck, said he has spoken with state Assembly members about future legislation, but there are no bills in the pipeline. He said cities should take the lead on changes.
Geller said his group formed in 2010, and has about 150 members from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The south state group's mission is to challenge any regulation of food trucks imposed by cities that isn't covered by public safety codes.
A self-described food truck advocate, Geller also frequently travels around the country helping operators form associations and fight restrictions.
In his letter to local truck owners, Geller said support of state legislation would reverse the accomplishments of his group and "likely destroy the mobile food industry in California."
Jarosz and other truck owners called the letter "threatening," "bullying" and "scare tactics," and pledged to keep supporting their agreement in Sacramento and possible state legislation.
The kerfuffle over food trucks comes as the industry shifts from the "taco trucks" of yesteryear, which served pre-made food primarily at construction and industrial sites, to gourmet meals cooked in a truck and served to a general audience.
Current city ordinances typically don't deal with the new wave of food vendors, a dining phenomenon in New York, Los Angeles and many other cities. As the number of trucks in the Sacramento area has grown, brick-and-mortar restaurants have become concerned about the new competition pulling up outside.
Sacramento's food truck ordinance forbids trucks from staying in one spot for more than 30 minutes and makes them shut down at night restrictions that truck owners say are too onerous.
The city launched talks 18 months ago to try to reach a compromise. An emerging food truck industry, led by event organizer SactoMoFo, wanted few restrictions on where trucks could do business and for how long. Along the way, a more conciliatory segment of truck operators peeled off from SactoMoFo and formed the CMFA.
Earlier this month, CMFA members and restaurant owners agreed on a city ordinance that would allow mobile food vendors to park within a block of downtown restaurants, increase time limits from 30 minutes to between 1.5 and 2.5 hours and allow them to stay open later. The proposal will go before the City Council for action this fall and could be amended in six months.
SactoMoFo member Davin Vculek, owner of Krushburger, said that Geller the Southern California activist is an "ally," and defended his letter.
He's worked so hard to give rights to the food trucks, and now the industry is working against him," Vculek said. "A lot of politicians and big government are tied in with restaurants."
Geller said that while he finds the proposed Sacramento ordinance "draconian," he's not planning legal action to challenge it, because he doesn't have members here.
Jarosz said there are still "rumblings of some type of suit or injunction" in Sacramento.
"It could erase what we've accomplished in the past two months," he said. "It's important in the next six months, that food trucks take care of each other, and show respect for each other and the regulations."