San Francisco’s mobile food movement pleases palates with curbside delicacies such as Naughty Naan and Kalua pork sliders. But the craze frustrates the owners of stationary restaurants who are forced to watch their customers wooed away by businesses that don’t pay rent.
Pressure has been mounting for The City to intervene.
“The current rules aren’t working very well,” said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. He said his members can see a daily revenue loss of up to 30 percent or 40 percent when trucks park outside their businesses. “Is it fair for The City to give away public land to compete with somebody else?”
Never one to shy away from a good food fight, Supervisor Scott Wiener has drafted legislation designed to appeal to both mobile and immobile eateries. His proposal would build on existing rules awarding permits based on guidelines like not allowing trucks to park near restaurants serving similar foods.
Many observers agree that the existing regulations, administered by the Department of Public Works, are unclear, plagued by subjectivity and don’t work for either side. “It’s creating chaos,” said Wiener, who has sought a compromise for 15 months. His plan is to create “no-truck zones” near restaurants while also opening up more of San Francisco to truck operators. But the details remain contentious and a hearing was postponed from December until at least late January.
“Food trucks are extremely popular in The City,” Wiener said. “Consumers want them. I will not do legislation that kills them, as some would like me to do.”
While mobile vendors sought 33-foot no-truck zones, the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco argued for a 100-foot rule, which would basically bar new permits downtown. Wiener’s proposed compromise splits the difference at 50 feet. But the issue remains under debate, as does the number of days per week any truck could operate at one location.
Other points of contention include granting operators designated parking spaces, assessing them a fee for using public space, eliminating a grandfather clause for existing permits and requiring permits to be renewed.
Wiener’s proposal also would allow trucks on hospital or university campuses and closer to middle and high schools. Currently, trucks cannot go within 1,500 feet of any school, but his proposal would reduce that to 500 feet for middle schools and between 750 feet and 1,000 feet for high schools.
Matt Cohen, founder of the food truck coalition Off The Grid, who is involved in the negotiations, said vendors can live with regulations so long as they help reform the existing process and don’t go too far.
“I don’t think the regulations will put anyone out of business,” Cohen said. But he added that the permit process can take up to 12 months and that obtaining a permitted site “doesn’t guarantee success.”
A solution can’t come fast enough for Gary Goldstein, who last month said he had spent 15 months trying to obtain a downtown permit for his $100,000 mobile coffee business. Business interests are fighting his application, as they have other permits.
“I’m bleeding money,” Goldstein complained.
Indeed, passions are running high among truck operators.
“I don’t think we are doing anything wrong to have trucks there,” said Jan, an employee of CurryUpNow who only provided his first name out of fear of retribution. “If they have a problem it’s only because our food is better.”