ELK GROVE, CA – Gone are the days when ‘food truck’ meant a grimy wagon selling microwaved burritos to construction workers, mobile food vendors told Elk Grove city planners Wednesday. Today’s gourmet trucks serve fresh, locally-sourced ingredients cooked up onsite, often with a propane grill.
And that new reality, they argued, makes Elk Grove’s current food truck rules—which mandate that vendors parked on streets move every 15 minutes—simply outdated.
“By the time you open your doors and set up your grill, that’s easily 20 minutes,” Paul Somerhausen, a coordinator for vendor alliance SactoMoFo, said at a public meeting called to discuss changes to the rules.
The meeting came in the wake of a sometimes-contentious debate over whether to relax regulations on mobile food sales in Sacramento. In Elk Grove, where officials are seeking to combat perceptions that the city is unfriendly to business, the arguments of the handful of vendors who showed up Wednesday fell on sympathetic ears.
“One of the things we’ve noticed is our ordinance is particularly restrictive,” said city planning director Taro Echiburu. “The basis for us being here…is to see what we can do to make it more flexible.”
Two o’clock curfew
Besides complying with the 15-minute rule, food truck owners currently must obtain an Elk Grove business license, pass county health department inspections and avoid blocking traffic or parking within 350 feet of a school. Trucks that park on streets need a special permit from the city. Serving hours are limited to between 7:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.—even on private property.
Truck owners want to be able to park for at least two hours, or as long as posted parking limits allow. And they say the 2:00 p.m. curfew keeps them from serving hungry crowds at evening events.
“You guys have a lot of cool events going on all the time that go past two o’clock,” said Andrew Blaskovich, owner of the hipster grilled-cheese-mobile Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen. “If you were to open up the curfew, we’d be able to participate in things like the pumpkin festival and the bike park.”
Vendors also said that because they operate in several cities, they sometimes have to pay multiple fees to meet the same requirements in different jurisdictions.
But Elk Grove Planning Commission member Frank Maita said those pale in comparison to fees paid by brick-and-mortar restaurants who compete with the food trucks.
“There are going to be concerns about having some sense of equity,” he said. “The city charges some pretty hefty fees if you’re a restaurant.”
Competition with restaurants
As ever-larger crowds of foodies flock to rolling eateries, the California Restaurant Association is keeping a close eye on regulatory discussions unfolding in different cities, said Johnnise Foster Downs, local government affairs director for the association.
While Sacramento requires that trucks change locations every 30 minutes, Citrus Heights allows them to stay in place for one hour; in Rancho Cordova, it’s two hours.
Downs said the main concern she hears from members is “when a brick-and-mortar restaurant does extensive advertising and then a food truck pulls up