SF food truck rules don’t hit the spot for restaurateurs, mobile vendors

Mike Koozmin/The SF ExaminerTruckin’: Food truck operators and brick-and-mortar restaurant owners are at odds over guidelines

Some restaurant owners want The City’s guidelines for food trucks sent back to the kitchen.

Legislation adopted earlier this year was intended to strike a balance between terrestrial eateries and their mobile counterparts. But some restaurant and building owners say the arrangement doesn’t go far enough to prevent food trucks from swarming areas with a high density of restaurants.

“We’ve got a small army of them scarfing up the lunch business and putting a real hurt on the small businesses that have been here for decades,” said Ken Cleveland, director of the Building Owners and Managers Association. “That’s something we have to take a good look at.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who spearheaded the legislation, is working with a group of restaurant owners, food truck proprietors and city officials to hash out potential shortcomings of the ordinance and propose changes.

“We want the food truck movement to succeed in San Francisco, but we want to be sure we’re taking a balanced approach and the brick-and-mortar restaurants that have invested so heavily in our city are being treated fairly,” Wiener said.

The Department of Public Works began issuing permits to mobile food vendors in March, a task previously left to the Police Department. But in the short time the department has issued permits, at least three of 16 have been appealed by neighboring restaurant and business owners, who fear the trucks will compete unfairly and create safety hazards.

The first appeal came to the Board of Appeals on Dec. 14. Kasa, a mobile version of the Castro neighborhood Indian restaurant, faced nine appellants, all opposed to two proposed locations in the Financial District.

The appellants were a group of restaurant and building owners, including Portico restaurant, Orale Orale, Subway and 7-Eleven.

“The city of San Francisco is attempting to cannibalize its existing businesses by permitting mobile facilities to operate at miniscule overhead in comparison to us, and yet with complete freedom to cut into our customer base,” said appellant Monesh Josan, who runs a Subway and 7-Eleven.

Restaurants worry about losing business while landlords fret about injuries and lost tenants.

“What we’ve done is created a situation that brings a lot of economic insecurity to everyone,” said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Food truck operators have their own issues with the system, since they can’t operate anywhere if someone appeals even a single one of their locations.

Tim Volkema, a co-owner of VK Industries, which runs the Kasa truck, understands the concerns raised by restaurants and said there must be a way they can co-exist.

“They’re worried about every block being flooded with trucks and I think that’s a legitimate concern,” Volkema said. Existing guidelines do not limit the number of trucks in one area and only loosely restrict hours of operation.

Owners of Doc’s of the Bay, another food truck involved in appeals, decided to abandon two locations being appealed by neighbors so that it could start operating at three noncontroversial locations, co-owner Lauren Smith said. Her business lost between $10,000 and $15,000 during the process, she said.

“It was extremely disappointing,” Smith said. “We could have essentially withdrawn these two that were appealed months ago and been using the others. We were just relying on the law being robust enough to withstand the appeal and it just wasn’t.”

Basics of the ordinance

  • Trucks cannot operate within 1,500 feet of a public middle school, junior high school or high school 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or in residential districts
  • No more than seven permitted sites per applicant
  • Must notify businesses within 300-foot radius of intent to secure truck location
  • Must maintain pedestrian pathway of at least 6 feet wide
  • Must comply with all parking regulations

Source: Department of Public Works

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

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