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Love 'Em or Hate 'Em, Food Trucks Could be Here to Stay

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 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.

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We want to know what you think, readers—should food truck lot events be guaranteed permanent spots in Santa Monica? Are they bad for business? Should the city adopt permanent rules to regulate their operations? Leave your opinion in the comments below.

RJ August 27, 2012 at 08:21 PM
....did I read the comments correctly? ONLY “$104,000" in a two year time period is enough to throw in the towel on brick and mortar businesses? The real clincher is the comment..... "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.” NO KIDDING? What else are "visitors" going to talk about when walking in the museum after visiting the food trucks? Then just because a "city staffer" thinks it’s a good idea is another reason to abandon the brick and mortar restaurants? So much for property taxes paying for a responsible city government that care about the number of employees "brick and mortar" business employ and all of the other benefits that a "grounded" business provides as opposed those that "drive away" taking profits with them and leaving nothing for long term community benefit. I guess just two commissioners wasn’t enough to understand…maybe the Main Street merchants should have had a “friend” at City Hall?
mimi September 14, 2012 at 05:13 PM
The food trucks will die a natural death if their food isn't good. There is no justification in the massacre of a fleet of food trucks or the rights of the little entrepeneurs. The trucks appeal to fast food customers. The restaurants are not fast food stands. Nor do they aspire to be. There is room for both. Let the customer decide the economic fate of each restaurant and each truck. I call that concept --- democracy and fair competition. Greedy landlords have sealed the fate of the Main Street merchants, be they restaurants or boutiques. It is a sad situation. The villains in this story are not the food trucks. It's the landlords who are extracting a pound of flesh from their tenants.. I suggest restaurant owners direct their anger at the real source of the problem. If landlords charged reasonable rents, the restaurants would not have to escalate their menu prices and customers would happily return. Leave the little guy alone. No one likes a bully or a red herring..

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