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Aug 14, 2010 05:54 AM

Good News for Food Truck Lovers in Santa Monica

Evidently, according to KABC on their local news this morning (and other media outlets had this story too) the Santa Monica City Council has approved the issuing of temporary use permits for private property owners of parking lots to allow food trucks to operate on their lots.

This will probably mean that the former food truck round up at 14th Street and Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica will be back up and running soon.

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  1. Servorg, this is promising. It just makes lots of sense for LA's communities to have places like this. The food trucks aren't going away. I think there's more than we need, and individual trucks will come and go for various reasons, but the culture of the food truck fits well with this town. They just needed semi-permanent places to set up and do business - legitimately. This will bring respectability to this type of business, and pulling them together in specific areas will up the competition to focus on the food and not the hype (twittering and chasing around these trucks is for people with too much time on their hands).

    I've said this before in other related posts about this whole food truck issue. Malaysia and Singapore have had their hawker centers and food courts for decades. They work. The overhead is relatively low, the vendors are competing in concert for the consumers' business, and the general quality of food and the prices fall in line because of this. Establishing locations for these trucks to set up will create a similar environment. Setting up simple tables and benches and portable washing and toilet facilities where needed should be a no-brainer.

    The benefits will also be seen by many brick & mortar businesses that have been at odds with these trucks. Battling for curb space and visibility is tough enough in many parts of town. Having a behemoth metal box with wheels park in front of one's business (food-related or not) is a legitimate concern for those businesses. Having these trucks adjacent to, as opposed to blocking their businesses may create not only some peace, but extra foot traffic for these businesses. These semi-permanent "food courts" can become a nucleus for consumer traffic and who knows what will spin out from this. Farmers market-like produce stalls? Carts and stands selling non-food items? And if these locations become established (like in Singapore and Malaysia), more brick & mortar businesses will usually follow.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bulavinaka

      All good points. It will also make it easier for the health authorities to check the truck's operations for food safety purposes. Hopefully the bricks and mortar places will not be able to get the City Council to reverse this decision (if they are so inclined).

      1. re: Servorg

        The public health issues with the hawker centers in Singapore and Malaysia became a concern and this led to higher scrutiny by public health authorities. They ultimately required all food to be sold from permanent stalls that had fixed plumbing. As far as I know, food trucks are unheard of over there, but using the hawker center example, the average food truck is self-contained. This would only require the inspectors to make sure the equipment exists and that it is in working order.

        As far as the B&Ms raising opposition to the semi-permanent locations, I can understand this. But at the same time, I think this would be very short-sighted of them to do so. I say this because I look at the whole phenomenon on Abbot Kinney Blvd. The "First Fridays" event that happens every first Friday of the month has turned into a huge success. First, there are lots of very good and unique shops and restaurants (now that Pinkberry is gone) that attract people here. People attract other people. Lots of people attract the food trucks. The food trucks attract even more people. The synergy that builds from all these elements coming together makes for a very festive atmosphere that can be duplicated in other parts of town given the right mix of good brick & mortars, good temporary and semi-temporary merchants, crowds that are attracted to this, and crowds that are attracted to crowds. Even the landlords can participate in the upswing. As the areas become more frequented, they become more desirable for creating income. As this becomes established, landlords can obviously raise rents. Abbot Kinney has transformed itself from a dead zone up until around 1995 to a high-rent zone in the span of less than 10 years, and is still going strong. Celebs now not only frequent this area, they now live around and even on this street. Up until 1995, I could count the number of celebs who lived in "the hood" on one hand. Now, the area is truly a "who's who" neighborhood.

        Yeah, Venice has lost its edge - the gangbangers are become relics, the hippies have been replaced by hipsters, most of the artists who really made this town Little Bohemia have been outpriced to parts unknown (except guys like Arnoldi and Dill), but I think most businesses would agree that this change has been for the better. The food trucks are now another layer of complexity that makes this street even more magnetic.

    2. the thing that bothers me about this law is that food trucks should be able to park (legally) at a meter or other parking spot, and i feel like this law is the first step in eliminating that ability.

      this goes more to non-upscale trucks for me. i've lived in la all my life and food trucks were staples for construction sites and areas without a lot of restaurants (or places where the restaurants were either not open early in the morning or later in the evening). and they parked on the street. my junior high had a food truck come every day because we didn't have a cafeteria. of course, then we called it the roach coach.

      isolating trucks to non-street parking is effectively going to limit a large amount of (traditional) food truck business. it's unfair. i agree with rational rules (i.e., you have to follow the parking laws where you park -- you have to clean up the trash associated with your business -- you have to have a valid health permit and follow those rules -- etc.), but clamping down by limiting the areas where they can do business seems unfair. this is what santa monica seems to be doing under the guise of: "oh, look how great and innovative we are."

      4 Replies
      1. re: nachosaurus

        I totally agree with you on the culture of food trucks as they filled a needed demand and continue to do so. I think this legislation is pointed directly at the food trucks that make a point of heading into areas that have a lot of foot traffic, commercial draw, twitter, etc. My guess would be that those traditional food trucks that make the construction site circuit, places like Vernon, etc., will be left alone as long as there are no complaints to the health dept or traffic dept.

        The issue with food trucks planting themselves on the street for extended periods of time (parked legally or not) in essence become eateries, much like a brick & mortar eatery. If the health code requires brick & mortars to offer minimum requirements like washroom facilities, then this becomes necessary for these once-mobile now-semi-permanent mobile food providers to do the same. Construction sites will at least have a porta-potty and normally have access to at least a water spigot. Schools and warehouses/factories in Vernon have their own facilities. Parked trucks have no proper facilities for their customers, so they are now at the mercy of adjacent buildings that may or may not allow eaters access to their facilities. I know this can be a moot point to many, but that's the way the law plays out. Whether it's reasonable or not for codes to require this of food trucks paints a wide gray line in terms of location and duration.

        1. re: bulavinaka

          Bula, I don't think the city of LA (don't know about Santa Monica) requires a washroom facility for cusomers (for workers - yes) by law for smaller restaurants. So that may be how the trucks skirt that particular law. In fact, if you think about it all the cart vendors would be in automatic violation of such a law. So I don't think that's a requirement for the trucks, as far as I know.

          1. re: Servorg

            The food trucks and the issue about washrooms is very tangible from what I experienced while unsuccessfully trying to get a sandwich from the now-no more Fresser's Pastrami truck.

            You probably know that areas like Abbot Kinney have been magnets for these trucks because of all the foot traffic. For a while, at least a half-dozen of these trucks could be found along Abbot Kinney at any given time from about 3PM on. The local merchants and restaurants were getting fed up with them, considering them to be eyesores relative to the character of the street, competition for parking on the street, etc. Word got out among some of the businesses that in order for these trucks to park on the street and do business, they had provide some sort of access to washroom facilities for their customers. If facilities were not available to the general public, the trucks had to have permission of an adjacent building that would allow access to the buliding's facilities for their patrons. This required substantiation by a hard-copy letter in hand, presentable upon demand. I took this all in while trying to order from the Fresser's truck. The owner of the business that the truck was parked in front of came out, verbally presented these statements to the driver. The driver challenging these claims, called (I'm assuming) his legal counsel to confirm this, explained the claim by the pissed business owner, accepted confirmation from his counsel ("Oh - I do? Are you certain? Okay - thanks..."), apologized to me, folded down the service side of his truck, and drove off. It was somewhat surreal going from anticipating a decent pastrami sandwich experience to watching it vaporize in front of me in this manner. The business owner took great enjoyment in scaring off the truck, the truck owner left in great frustration after spending so much time finding this cherished parking spot and even more time parallel-parking his rig into the tiny spot, and I was left somewhat unsettled seeing this take place in front of me.

            If this issue with the washroom accessibility is part of code, my guess is not many know about it, so few bother pulling out this card to hassle the trucks.

            1. re: bulavinaka

              I wish i could share servorgs enthusiam over a potential s.m. regulation, but having lived, worked, and been further involved with s.m. politics, burocracy, and regulations, there is nothing encouraging in this to me, as a supporter of food trucks. If i was a restauranteur i might feel differently. I see this as a "driving" of the trucks off the streets, perhpas even a herding of them into a corral to then "pick them off." For sure once they are "invited" them into commercial parking lots, they will become illegal on the streets. As pointed out above 'those" commercial parking lots will be limited and far between?

              One question for the "planners" of s.m:. what then happens to the long history of "construction" lunch trucks? It will only be fair that they then go too.

              Having the trucks in the parking lots that do exist along truck alley sounds like a resonable compromise, as there are fewer brick-mortar restaurants nearby, and alot of customers. Elswhere in sm there is not alot of street parking anyhow, and there are alot of restaurants that take issue with the trucks. (but with so little street parking- whats the threat?)

              But there isn't that much space available in those lots, and then we will have the obvious escalating "rent" for those limited private spaces, all of which will eat away at the whole truck dynamic.It reminds me of when the sm city council was so "surprised" that amping up the development of the third street promenade resulted in the loss of local business and the influx of mall stores.

              The truck owners need a coalition and a planning lawyer

              Good luck