Food truck restrictions stuck on school zones

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New rules for San Francisco's vibrant mobile food industry advanced closer to approval Monday with one issue left unresolved: how close they should be allowed to some public high schools.

For two years, Supervisor Scott Wiener has worked to reach a compromise to try and end the bitter conflict between food truck vendors and brick-and-mortar restaurants, whose owners complain the mobile businesses have an unfair advantage and are cutting into their profits.

It appears Wiener has succeeded. No one blasted his proposal during Monday's Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing.

The full Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the legislation next week, but until then officials will hash out the distance food trucks must stay away from a handful of schools.

In 2007, the Board of Supervisors adopted a ban on food trucks within 1,500 feet of middle and high schools, citing concerns about students leaving campus and eating unhealthy foods. Since then the mobile food truck industry has taken off.

Wiener proposed relaxing the restrictions to provide more areas for the food trucks to go as the legislation restricts others. Under Wiener's legislation, new permits would not allow food trucks within 75 feet of the front entrance of a restaurant and the trucks could operate only three days out of seven at one location.

The proposal initially reduced the school ban to 500 feet. Now it's 500 feet for middle schools and either 1,000 feet or 750 feet around high schools, depending on where they are located.

Still, the San Francisco Unified School District is opposing reducing the ban to 750 feet for the John O'Connell, Mission and Galileo high schools.

Both supervisors Jane Kim and David Chiu, who sit on the committee with Wiener, have requested maps of the impact of the different distances in time for next week's full board vote on the legislation.

“Those schools, they have a large population relative to the other schools and they also have had a history of challenges with participation in their lunch program, with students leaving off campus,” said Chris Armentrout, the San Francisco Unified School District's director of policy, adding that he could support 1,000 feet.

Wiener called the existing ban “quite extreme.”

“It can effectively preclude food trucks from the bulk of a neighborhood,” Wiener said. “We have seen that in the Mission.” He questioned what impact 250 feet could make.

Meanwhile, the board may next debate regulating another aspect of the mobile truck movement, mobile retail like fashion trucks. The Small Business Commission is working on a proposal.

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