Sacramento food truck rules are fully cooked, finally

Customers look at the menu of Keith Breedlove’s Culinerdy Cruzer food truck in Sacramento last November.
Customers look at the menu of Keith Breedlove’s Culinerdy Cruzer food truck in Sacramento last November. pkitagaki@ sacbee.com

For a case study in how a good idea can get bogged down, look no further than giving food trucks more room to roam on Sacramento’s streets. Finally on Tuesday, the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee passed a draft ordinance and sent it to the full council.

“It’s only been four years,” said committee Chairman Jay Schenirer. He was being sarcastic.

Since the subject first came up, food trucks have become more popular and a staple at festivals. But they could be an even bigger – and tastier – part of our growing food scene. This issue has simmered long enough.

Under the latest proposal, the outdated 30-minute limit to park in one spot would finally be lifted. Instead, food trucks could stay as long as the posted parking limit allows – if they’re at least 50 feet from intersections and restaurant outdoor seating areas and at least 400 feet from another food truck. Between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., they would have to stay at least 1,000 feet away from bars and clubs with entertainment permits.

Also, the new ordinance would also make permits simpler for food truck “pods” that could park on private property with no time limit.

Before the ordinance goes before the full City Council, probably April 28, city staffers are working on nighttime restrictions on food trucks in residential areas to protect neighborhoods. That’s wise.

While food truck operators are on board with the proposed rules, a representative of the California Restaurant Association told the committee that they still fall short. The trade group prefers the ordinance in San Francisco, which requires a 75-foot buffer between a food truck and the entrance to any restaurant.

“We’re not San Francisco,” Schenirer replied, saying that such a requirement would almost certainly lead to a lawsuit.

The food truck rules are a balancing act. The city doesn’t want to harm brick-and-mortar eateries; enough of them have been closing for lack of business as it is. But the city’s staff says Sacramento does not regulate competition and “should not consider it when implementing policy.”

The city, however, does need to protect consumers. County environmental health officials, who inspect mobile food vendors, say that some older trucks are not equipped with kitchens and refrigeration necessary for the more extensive menus they now offer.

Close to 25 percent are closed down until they correct major violations, compared to 1 percent of brick-and-mortar restaurants. Under the ordinance, vendors would have to provide access to toilets and hand-washing facilities for employees.

The bottom line is that the ordinance has gone through enough detours. It’s time to pass it and let the food trucks roll.