New state law forces city to re-examine proposed food truck ordinance

City officials say they are re-examining a food truck ordinance after a state law passed that banned local governments from prohibiting sidewalk food vendors.
The Buckhorn food truck is seen along Abbey Street in Winters on August 7, 2018. Photo by Matthew Keys

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signed into law Assembly Bill 946, a measure that aims to encourage economic development and entrepreneurship by low-income and immigrant residents by removing criminal prohibitions and other barriers on sidewalk vending operations. “To say it snuck up on us is kind of an understatement,” Donlevy said, noting he was initially unaware of the new law until the Express sent an email asking about its potential impact on the food truck ordinance. For months, the city has contemplated the possibility of limiting food truck operations to certain parts of Winters — specifically, the intersection of Grant Avenue and Railroad Avenue — with a cap on the number of food trucks that are allowed to obtain a permit at any one time. But the new state law allows sidewalk vendors to operate anywhere in the city with few restrictions, including public parks. That complicates efforts because a restriction on food trucks would treat those business owners differently from ones who operate food carts in parks and on other city sidewalks. City officials say they want to ensure that any proposed ordinance not only complies with the new law on sidewalk vending operations but also treats food cart and food truck owners fairly and equitably. “Food carts can basically go anywhere as long as they’re compliant,” Donlevy said. “Treating food trucks fairly in context with this is…something that’s going to be important.” The food truck town hall was originally scheduled to be a city planning commission meeting, but that meeting was cancelled because a number of commission members were not present. With two commission members, the city manager and the city’s contract planner David Dowswell already in attendance, officials decided to allow representatives of local business owners who had showed up an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas on where things stood with the proposed ordinance. A number of comments were franchised from a meeting City Intern Samuel Donlevy, who is the son of City Manager John Donlevy, held with local businesses to discuss the proposed ordinance he was tasked with helping to craft. In an email sent to the Express last month, the younger Donlevy said representatives of Kountry Kitchen, Lester Farms Bakery and Hooby’s Brewing were in attendance to discuss the clarity of maps used to describe where the trucks would operate, issues related to zoning near local schools, code enforcement and the availability of bathrooms for food truck customers. One concern was about the organization of the meetings themselves. Stan Lester, the owner of Lester Farms Bakery, said the younger Donlevy’s business huddle in August was well-organized and that the intern was receptive to ideas and concerns that were pitched at the meeting. But Lester said many other business complained to him that they were unaware of Donlevy’s meeting on the topic. “There’s a lot of folks in town that have brick-and-mortar businesses that have a food business that don’t know anything about it, were not invited and were not aware of this,” Lester said. Lester also complained that a number of the comments and ideas offered at the meeting did not appear to have been incorporated in the proposed ordinance that was scheduled to be addressed at what would have been last week’s planning commission meeting. “What we have here tonight, with this proposal that we’ve seen, does not contain a single part of the proposal written by Sam, the hour long meeting and the discussions that took place do not appear anywhere in this document,” Lester said. City Manager Donlevy asked Lester for feedback on what was discussed at the meeting that didn’t make it into the planning commission’s discussion packet. Lester said one of the takeaways was a “proposal to have food trucks all the way down Main Street all the way down to Grant [Avenue].” In a PowerPoint presentation displayed at the beginning of the town hall meeting, city officials did in fact say one consideration was made to allow food truck businesses to operate in commercial zones throughout Winters, expanding on a limitation that had previously constrained food trucks to operating along the intersection of Grant Avenue and Railroad Avenue. But Donlevy said he didn’t think there was ever a proposal to allow food trucks to operate anywhere they please, and certainly not “up and down Main Street.” “There was a lot of consensus that was reached at that meeting amongst everyone,” Donlevy said. “Nowhere have we ever been considering that this could happen anywhere but a commercially-zoned area.” Other issues that came up at the August meeting were revisited again at the town hall, with the operator of the Kountry Kitchen restaurant reiterating a concern about food truck customers relieving themselves in the open because of a lack of restroom services. “What I saw last time, I don’t want to see again,” the owner said. Donlevy said he understood the complaint, noting that the city was exploring ways to reduce the problem by possibly requiring business owners who allow the trucks to sell on their property to open their restrooms to those customers. But he also said the issue of a person relieving themselves near a food truck that was already operating in the city was likely unrelated to the business. “Nobody knows whose the one who went to the bathroom behind the thing,” Donlevy said. “I would guess that it wasn’t from the food truck. It’s just a general problem.”]]>

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