News

Allow food trucks downtown?

Increasingly popular food trucks serving gourmet and exotic foods could either add spice to Mountain View's thriving downtown or hurt the area's restaurants, depending on who you ask.

At a City Council meeting last week, members discussed a proposal to keep food trucks off busy Castro Street, with a slim majority in favor of allowing the trucks downtown.

Some cities, such as Portland, have embraced food trucks in their city centers, even bringing in utilities for them to park long-term. But food trucks aren't wanted by the city's downtown committee and the Central Business Association, which represents downtown businesses.

"These trucks take away business from the established 'brick-and-mortar' restaurants that have worked so hard and paid thousands of dollars to be here," writes Julie Smiley, director of the central Business Association, in a recent letter to the council. It notes a list of taxes and fees levied on downtown restaurants that food trucks don't have to pay.

Council members Ronit Bryant, John Inks, Mike Kasperzak and Margaret Abe-Koga indicated some support for allowing food trucks downtown, though some suggested it might be limited to parking lots such as that of St. Joseph's Church, for example.

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"If there's extra space, why not?" said council member Ronit Bryant. She noted parking lots near the train tracks on Evelyn where it would be "really fun to have food trucks there."

"Let's make it easy," Bryant said. "It is a new experience our residents want to have."

City staff members said that the trucks pose a safety issue if parked on busy Castro Street, encouraging patrons to jaywalk or possibly drawing crowds to sidewalk, forcing people to walk in the street.

"I personally don't have problem restricting mobile food vendors on public streets and sidewalks downtown," said council member Chris Clark. "Given our compact downtown I think here are legitimate safety concerns there."

Mayor John Inks disagreed.

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"I scoured this report looking for the genuine public safety issues and it's not really manifest," Inks said. "These food trucks are not much of a real problem. This is an ordinance for the sake of having an ordinance. I'd probably shelve this thing."

"I actually think being restrictive downtown is going too far," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "North of California Street, maybe, but not the entirety of Castro. People love the downtown area -- that's one of the things that could be an added draw and is certainly an added draw in other cities."

Member John McAlister was less interested.

"Being the business owner of a brick-and-mortar business, I know it's cost me plenty of dollars," said council member John McAlister, who owns the city's Baskin Robbins. He said he opposed allowing food trucks downtown.

Code enforcement officer Chris Costanza said he had not heard a complaint about a food truck downtown in two years. City Attorney Jannie Quinn said mobile food vendors had a "gentle-person's agreement" to not park downtown while the city considers an ordinance.

"In general, mobile food vendors do not want to cause trouble or wreak havoc," said Dan Hugo, acting director of the newly founded Bay Area Mobile Food Vendors Association.

Quinn noted the city's concern with a particular mobile food business that has been seen parked for near Clyde's Liquors "for multiple weeks at a time."

To deal with that, Quinn recommends "a (temporary use permit) be obtained when a vendor remains on private property for more than 4 hours," she said in an email.

Also a concern are whether to allow food trucks within 100 feet of schools, as is currently allowed, or to extend the allowed distance to 500 feet. Local school districts support the longer distance, citing concerns about whether trucks are serving healthy food and may encourage students to put themselves at risk by jaywalking to get to a food truck. Mountain View Whisman School District wants to be able to have food trucks cater special school events when needed.

"If we just push it out into the neighborhood we are just going to have more problems with neighbors having students in front of their houses," Abe-Koga said. City staff had said they could not regulate food trucks parking on public residential streets.

"I don't want to ban them completely from downtown streets either," Abe-Koga said.

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Allow food trucks downtown?

by Daniel DeBolt / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 24, 2013, 11:53 am

Increasingly popular food trucks serving gourmet and exotic foods could either add spice to Mountain View's thriving downtown or hurt the area's restaurants, depending on who you ask.

At a City Council meeting last week, members discussed a proposal to keep food trucks off busy Castro Street, with a slim majority in favor of allowing the trucks downtown.

Some cities, such as Portland, have embraced food trucks in their city centers, even bringing in utilities for them to park long-term. But food trucks aren't wanted by the city's downtown committee and the Central Business Association, which represents downtown businesses.

"These trucks take away business from the established 'brick-and-mortar' restaurants that have worked so hard and paid thousands of dollars to be here," writes Julie Smiley, director of the central Business Association, in a recent letter to the council. It notes a list of taxes and fees levied on downtown restaurants that food trucks don't have to pay.

Council members Ronit Bryant, John Inks, Mike Kasperzak and Margaret Abe-Koga indicated some support for allowing food trucks downtown, though some suggested it might be limited to parking lots such as that of St. Joseph's Church, for example.

"If there's extra space, why not?" said council member Ronit Bryant. She noted parking lots near the train tracks on Evelyn where it would be "really fun to have food trucks there."

"Let's make it easy," Bryant said. "It is a new experience our residents want to have."

City staff members said that the trucks pose a safety issue if parked on busy Castro Street, encouraging patrons to jaywalk or possibly drawing crowds to sidewalk, forcing people to walk in the street.

"I personally don't have problem restricting mobile food vendors on public streets and sidewalks downtown," said council member Chris Clark. "Given our compact downtown I think here are legitimate safety concerns there."

Mayor John Inks disagreed.

"I scoured this report looking for the genuine public safety issues and it's not really manifest," Inks said. "These food trucks are not much of a real problem. This is an ordinance for the sake of having an ordinance. I'd probably shelve this thing."

"I actually think being restrictive downtown is going too far," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "North of California Street, maybe, but not the entirety of Castro. People love the downtown area -- that's one of the things that could be an added draw and is certainly an added draw in other cities."

Member John McAlister was less interested.

"Being the business owner of a brick-and-mortar business, I know it's cost me plenty of dollars," said council member John McAlister, who owns the city's Baskin Robbins. He said he opposed allowing food trucks downtown.

Code enforcement officer Chris Costanza said he had not heard a complaint about a food truck downtown in two years. City Attorney Jannie Quinn said mobile food vendors had a "gentle-person's agreement" to not park downtown while the city considers an ordinance.

"In general, mobile food vendors do not want to cause trouble or wreak havoc," said Dan Hugo, acting director of the newly founded Bay Area Mobile Food Vendors Association.

Quinn noted the city's concern with a particular mobile food business that has been seen parked for near Clyde's Liquors "for multiple weeks at a time."

To deal with that, Quinn recommends "a (temporary use permit) be obtained when a vendor remains on private property for more than 4 hours," she said in an email.

Also a concern are whether to allow food trucks within 100 feet of schools, as is currently allowed, or to extend the allowed distance to 500 feet. Local school districts support the longer distance, citing concerns about whether trucks are serving healthy food and may encourage students to put themselves at risk by jaywalking to get to a food truck. Mountain View Whisman School District wants to be able to have food trucks cater special school events when needed.

"If we just push it out into the neighborhood we are just going to have more problems with neighbors having students in front of their houses," Abe-Koga said. City staff had said they could not regulate food trucks parking on public residential streets.

"I don't want to ban them completely from downtown streets either," Abe-Koga said.

Comments

Janet L
Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm
Janet L, Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Food trucks are great for generating foot traffic and activity in areas that are on the fringes of walking districts. In Portland, they bring life to the downtown blocks that were barren by setting up in underutilized parking lots. In Palo Alto, the Edgewood Eats weekly event brings people to beleaguered Edgewood shopping center.

So, I agree with Ronit Bryant. There are spots on the edges of downtown, like the parking lots on Evelyn, that could work. What about the parking lot at County Services on Moffett across Central Expwy? Or the Caltrain parking lot? We clear a section of the Caltrain lot for Sunday morning's Farmer's market. Maybe on Saturday nights it could be used for food trucks.


Angela Hey
another community
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm
Angela Hey, another community
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay is a restaurant that has food trucks. This is a trend - so downtown restaurants should be looking at how they can augment their business by supporting take-away, catering, etc. The larger downtown restaurants might consider acquiring food trucks to reach the nether edges of Mountain View - like The Landings area.

I believe some restaurants will be hurt by food trucks. Baskin-Robbins would probably benefit as if there is a big crowd for food trucks some people may like an ice cream dessert. The food trucks probably appeal to a wider demographic than restaurants - families with children who don't want to sit still in a restaurant enjoy good quality food trucks.

Castro Street, however, is not an ideal venue - what works is a big parking lot near a residential area. So the other side of the tracks or the other side of El Camino from downtown could be explored.


Yep
Whisman Station
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm
Yep, Whisman Station
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Lets not put food trucks in areas that already have a high concentration of people...best to use them to attract people to areas that don't get as much traffic. Good idea, we just need the right place


juniperk
Gemello
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm
juniperk, Gemello
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Here is another idea: people can go to restaurants and order food from the menu that lists items from the food trucks. Restaurants add a markup to the bill. Everyone is happy. I hate food trucks because they don't pay any taxes and don't pay for anything that the city has to maintain. People who eat from food trucks don't think about real issues like this and have no common sense or ethics. Folks, restaurants located in downtown and other places pay rents and other fees and that supports employing people. If you eat from food trucks, it doesn't support the lcoal city/town. SO I don't know what kind of SH*T people eat that they don't think issues like these.


Uneven Playing Field
Cuernavaca
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm
Uneven Playing Field, Cuernavaca
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm

As much as the food trucks might appeal to the general public downtown, McAlister has a very valid point. Particularly over the lunch hour, the trucks would compete with many of the local restaurants. Yes, I do believe they're fighting for much of the same clientele. Many of the restaurants offer take-out, or can also be somewhat "grab and go" in their service.

Those restaurants pay significant monthly rent, and they must account for that rent expense in their food prices. If I were a restaurant owner (or a business landlord renting to a restaurant), I'd be ticked off to have a new competitor, who pays no rent, and was not in the picture when I signed my lease.

If the City of Mountain View values its downtown food businesses, the City should take those businesses into account when writing mobile vendor policies. Margins are already slim in the food business...and nobody wants a bunch of vacant storefronts on Castro.


I eat and I vote
Cuesta Park
on Jan 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm
I eat and I vote, Cuesta Park
on Jan 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Going to a food truck, for me anyways, has always been about NOT wanting to go to a restaurant that day. Its more about avoiding fast food joints than anything else. For me, going to a restaurant and going to a food truck are non competing ideas. When I'm in the mood for a restaurant, I go, when I want fast food(food trucks included), I go.
Two totally different animals/experiences for me.


Sheri B.
Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 3:58 pm
Sheri B., Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Seems like the food trucks would cause a lot of congestion if they are downtown at lunch when its already almost impossible to park. I think having them in an area less congested is better.


Foodie chicka
Blossom Valley
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:06 pm
Foodie chicka, Blossom Valley
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Castro Street already has lots of restaurants, so I don't think they should go there and parking is starting to disappear at lunchtime as the economy picks up. They should go to areas that have parking lots like parks, such as Cuesta, and a lack of quality restaurants nearby. They you could enjoy your lunch in a beautiful setting. Or local school parking lots in the evening, as I'm sure parents who are at a sports game would appreciate an easy way to get food to go home after the game.


Martin Omander
Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm
Martin Omander, Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm

It should not be city government's job to shield businesses from competition. We don't know if food trucks will take customers away from restaurants or make downtown a nicer place and increase the size of the pie for all businesses. In the absence of evidence, I favor fewer government regulations.

City government does have a legitimate concern about safety and traffic flow on Castro. Food trucks should only be allowed on Castro if they don't hold up traffic or create hazards.


tommygee54
Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:31 pm
tommygee54, Rex Manor
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:31 pm

There are many eateries on Castro St. as it is. Seemingly the turnover rate is high as these eateries come and go. Now with the addition of food trucks, the turnover rate will be even higher!!! Why? Because the food trucks will divide and conquer AND take over downtown. Perhaps one day Mtn. View can get an A & W Root beer eatery back!


NW Resident
North Whisman
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:54 pm
NW Resident, North Whisman
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I agree that food trucks can provide a good option in the right location. I doubt that St. Joseph's Church would want to allow food trucks in their parking lot, since they already designate 30 of their parking spaces next to Castro St to be used by local business employees.

I work in the Sunnyvale Business Park on California Ave at Mathilda and we have a regular rotation of food trucks at lunch time most days of the week, including Sam's Chowdermobile once a month. It has worked out well for the employees of the businesses there to have food trucks as a lunch option. Some patrons even drive there from other places, since they follow their favorite trucks on social media.


Uneven Playing Field
Cuernavaca
on Jan 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm
Uneven Playing Field, Cuernavaca
on Jan 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Martin -

While I agree in general, I disagree in this particular case. The City has more or less "sized" the available options via its zoning processes and business permits. To significantly "re-size" the market after the game has started is playing too large a direct role in the competition.

I'd liken this to taxi licenses (medallions) in large cities. The Cities set and allow a finite number of medallions. This sets the market and the pricing. Taxi drivers pay for their medallion based on the supply/demand. To after-the-fact make a number of incremental medallions available rarely happens, since it's unfair to those who purchased their medallions in a more limited environment.


Otto Maddox
Monta Loma
on Jan 24, 2013 at 7:26 pm
Otto Maddox, Monta Loma
on Jan 24, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Please don't use the taxi medallions as a model.

Those medallions become worth their weight in gold.. million dollars sometimes.

It puts the little guys out of business and eventually all the drivers are more or less sharecroppers.

I am fine with food trucks as long as they keep their areas clean. All too often you can tell where I truck has been by the trash left behind. I know this is the fault of their customers but I don't want to pay a city employee to keep these areas clean.


Luv MV
Blossom Valley
on Jan 24, 2013 at 9:13 pm
Luv MV, Blossom Valley
on Jan 24, 2013 at 9:13 pm

While I can have used food trucks( or roach coaches as they are more commonly referred to)for a quick bite at festivals or at work. I don't agree with the offering of their services on Castro St on a regular basis.

Consider the size of the vehicles, minimally, they are the size of a short school bus but most are much larger,if parked anywhere on Castro St. it will surely block the the street view and exposure of a 'brick and mortar' business that pays a monthly rent, taxes and fees including street clean up and maintenance. These fees that will be utilized to empty the city sidewalk garbage cans and pay for additional street sweeper services that will undoubtedly be needed to handle the increase food wrappers and waste.

I liken this situation to that of the Mountain View homeowner that has to pay property taxes and utilities to live in Mountain View yet, a MOTOR HOME dweller/owner does have NOT have to pay property taxes or utilities and can LIVE in their motor home in Mountain View (as those living on Pamela Ave. and also, Independence Ave.)

At least consider making the financial commitment/investment and community responsibility equal by assessing monthly charges to the food truck vendors comparable to a store front business i.e rental space per square foot of occupied space (based on parking space sizes with a minimum area charge of 5 spaces for example), additional fees for city waste, recycling and maintenance fees, utility charges assessed if the city opts to also,provide utility hook ups,etc.

Then we can see if the food truck vendors are still willing to accept these as "costs for doing business" in Mountain View and if they are still willing to hang their "mobile shingle" on Castro St or if they wouldn't rather take their meals to go.


Fred
Old Mountain View
on Jan 25, 2013 at 6:33 am
Fred, Old Mountain View
on Jan 25, 2013 at 6:33 am

Palo Alto has (or had) a lot devoted specifically to food trucks located just off of University Avenue. That part of Palo Alto also has gobs of regular restaurants which some would say are a cut above their counterparts on Castro. So maybe competition is good.


USA
Old Mountain View
on Jan 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm
USA, Old Mountain View
on Jan 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Would the food trucks be forced to pay the same taxes and fees as the brick and mortar restaurants?

Would they make the same "contribution" to the city's coffers? If so, are they audited?


AK
Sylvan Park
on Jan 27, 2013 at 11:04 am
AK, Sylvan Park
on Jan 27, 2013 at 11:04 am

Nice idea, not well-thought out. Castro would turn into a food truck slum- what's next? A flea market? Those Castro restaurants would hurt unless they add their own trucks to the line.


Name hidden
Jackson Park

on Jun 4, 2017 at 9:54 pm
Name hidden, Jackson Park

on Jun 4, 2017 at 9:54 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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