Sacramento’s enthusiasm for food trucks is on display every time long lines greet them at festivals. As they should, city officials are trying to welcome them as part of the growing food scene.
The appetizing proposal that is gathering the most momentum now is to allow “pods” of four or five food trucks to set up on private property in certain areas of the city, daily or perhaps just on weekends. Potential locations haven’t been determined, but there’s talk of one in Oak Park near UC Davis Medical Center. The pods would be similar to those in places such as Portland, though smaller.
Tuesday, the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee gave its go-ahead to draft an ordinance that would classify food trucks on private property as “outdoor markets” under the city’s revamped zoning code.
A vendor association managing the pod would have to seek a permit. The city could attach conditions to fend off fly-by-night operators and to address neighborhood concerns, including traffic, noise and parking. For instance, the city could require nearby bathrooms, ban alcohol sales, and determine lighting and screening. A final ordinance would go before the Planning and Design Commission and full City Council later this year.
The city’s attention is shifting to pods on private property because progress has stalled on giving food trucks more freedom to roam public streets.
That’s too bad because owners of food trucks and of traditional restaurants, who had been fighting over turf, were on the verge of a truce. Under the compromise, food trucks would have been able to stay in one spot for 90 minutes in some parts of downtown and midtown and 21/2 hours elsewhere, as long as they were at least a block away from traditional restaurants. The current, outdated rules limit trucks to 30 minutes at a single location. The conflict has also lessened because there has been quite a bit of crossover in the last couple of years. Brick-and-mortar restaurants have branched out into food trucks, and food truck vendors have started offering their fare at restaurants.
Even though the issue has been under discussion for more than three years, city officials have been stymied from moving forward after the City Attorney’s Office determined that local governments have little leeway under state law to change the rules for food trucks on public streets for reasons of commerce, not public safety. The council committee agreed Tuesday that the city should work with other municipal officials to try to change that state law.
It is understandably frustrating when a popular idea – like making food trucks more accessible – runs into roadblocks. Officials and owners should keep plugging away. The payoff for Sacramento is well worth it.