Proposal lauded by city as way to help existing Manteca restaurants
BY DENNIS WYATT
Food trucks in Manteca could be able to stay in one spot for up to six hours.
And according to city staff, it is all part of a plan to boost business at existing restaurants.
The Manteca Planning Commission Tuesday on a 3-2 vote with commission members Jeff Zellner and Ron LaFranchi dissenting recommended that the City Council adopt the longer hours as well as new rules for food trucks.
Staff had recommended three hours but the panel went with six hours after Commission member Paraminder Sahi expressed concern that the shorter time might be too restrictive.
The vote came just hours after two food trucks — that associate planner Adam Paszkowski told the commission are “operating illegally” — spent most of the day as they do every weekday on the southwest corner of Lathrop Road and Airport Way. Not only are they in violation of the existing city ordinance that says they cannot stay in one spot for more than 10 minutes but they are also violating the basic county health department food truck permit requirement that they operate within 200 feet of a restroom.
The lack of enforcement of rules such as those that exist for food trucks unless it is driven by a complaint from the public prompted Commissioner Eric Hayes who supported the new rules to note “you can have all of the rules you want but if they are not going to be enforced none of it matters.”
Planning Manager J.D. Hightower noted the push for more liberal time for food trucks came from a recommendation of a council appointed economic development commission that saw food trucks as a way of creating economic activity.
Staff cited research in other cities including Alameda near Oakland that indicated food trucks increased business at brick and mortar restaurants that they were parked near. In the case of Alameda brick and mortar restaurants recorded a 6 percent sales increase between 2012 before a food truck event was started at the South Shore Shopping Center and 2013 when the food truck event was up and running.
Zellner questioned the validity of the research presented by staff in terms of how it applied to Manteca and the ordinance changes as presented.
Zellner noted the time between 2012 and 2013 was when the state was coming out of a recession and that the increase for brick and mortar restaurants could be more attributable to the improving economy. He also questioned comparing a food truck event as in Alameda to individual food trucks that Manteca is trying to encourage. He added that the dynamics of Alameda — a city that is roughly the same size of Manteca — are not comparable given there are more than a million consumers within 10 miles or so and that its population base likely doesn’t have extensive commutes as Manteca residents do.
“We need to compare applies with apples,” Zellner said.
Planning Chair Leonard Smith had no qualms with the research that also included a number of cities larger than Manteca.
“Research shows it helps existing restaurants,” Smith said based on creating more buzz and activity.
Smith was disappointed that impacted food truck vendors as well as restaurant owners were not in attendance at Tuesday’s council meeting to provide their input on the proposed rules. Food truck operators and restaurant owners will have the opportunity to weigh in when the proposed ordinance changes go before the City Council in the coming months for possible adoption.
Although he did not vote for the ordinance changes due to reservations with impacts on existing restaurants LaFranchini was pleased staff had dropped that language would have allowed food trucks to stay in one spot from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. He had argued at a previous commission meeting that would have created de facto “permanent restaurants”.
LaFranchini had expressed concern allowing single food trucks to operate throughout commercial areas in the city at locations where they had secured permission from property owners and obtained a municipal permit would “clutter” Manteca and lead to garbage and trash issues that led to the city adopting the current ordinance with a 10-minute limit for a food truck to operate in one place.
That said LaFranchini was impressed with the “food truck court” in downtown Modesto near the transit center. Multiple food trucks park in one location where there is a portable bathroom as well as wash station in addition to having tables and even shade structures. He made a pitch to have such an option built into the ordinance that would require a conditional use permit submission by a property owner. He envisioned food truck courts being created in commercial and industrial park zones. His idea was not incorporated into the recommendation to the City Council.
Wendy Benavides, a resident and former downtown business owner, was the only member of the public present for the meeting.
While she made it clear she usually wasn’t against the idea of food trucks, she was concerned the city in encouraging more food trucks would do damage to struggling small restaurants in Manteca.
She noted that while Manteca had a strong lunch base 20 plus years ago that packed delis and small restaurants, the changing dynamics of employment in Manteca along with half the workforce commuting out of town has reduced the daytime customer base.
Benavides believes if more food trucks start operating and just peel away a small number of customers it could create irreparable financial losses and force the closure of small businesses.
Sahi expressed concern about how much faith the city would be able to have in food trucks not just collecting the correct sales tax for Manteca — it has a higher rate than some nearby jurisdictions due to the half cent Measure M public safety tax — but whether food trucks operating in multipole jurisdictions would make sure to report to state authorities the correct percentage of sales tax they collect that Manteca is entitled to receive.
The ordinance language that the commission is recommending the council adopt allows food trucks in commercial zones as long as they are not within 150 feet of a building housing a restaurant. They can also operate in industrial zones. In both cases, though, they would need to secure a city permit.
The new rules being considered exclude sidewalk vendors such as a pushcart for a hot dog vendor or a pedal-driven cart such as those that appear in neighborhoods selling frozen treats.
Other proposed rules for food trucks include:
prohibiting mobile food vendor vehicles (food trucks, ice cream trucks, and canteen trucks) from operating “within the public right-of-way or on any city property except in the event of a street closure for a special event allowed by the city.”
The Parks & Recreation Department has the authority to establish rules and regulations for mobile food vendors wishing to operate within city parks.
No more than two mobile food vendor vehicles may operate at any one location unless a temporary use permit has been issued.
Mobile food vendor vehicles shall be clean and in good repair and not have any peeling, dents, rust, scratches or missing components that are discernible at a distance of 5 feet or more.
They cannot block a lawfully placed signage of another business, impede ingress or egress from another business, or be located with any clear visibility triangle.
Signs shall be limited to those attached to the exterior or interior of a mobile food vendor vehicle plus one temporary free-standing sign. That free-standing sign may not be placed more than 2 feet beyond the food vendor and have two faces with the sign being no taller than four feet wide than three feet and require a city-issued portable sign permit. The name of the business, the commissary (where the vehicle is housed) address, and phone number must be displayed on the passenger side of the vehicle and clearly visible at a distance of 10 feet.
Areas around the food vehicle must be kept neat and orderly at all times. Once a vehicle is parked and in operation it is the vendors’ responsibility for cleanliness of the area — not less than 50 feet from all parts of the vehicle — regardless of the occurrence or source of waste in the area.
They must provide a trash receptacle for public use that is sufficient and suitable to contain all the trash the operation generates. All waste must be removed before a mobile food vendor vehicle departs from a location.