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SactoMoFo a catalyst for ordinance discussion

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Just days after the successful SactoMoFo mobile food festival, City Councilman Rob Fong asked that an ordinance limiting mobile food vendors’ parking times within the city be reviewed with an eye for changing it.

“What I’d like to ask everyone is to see if we would be willing to take a second look at the mobile food vendor ordinance that is currently on the books. I suspect that Law and Legislation is the place … to see… if there’s a way for us to kind of accommodate what I think is a very positive and cool movement that is really going through a lot of other cities and has really positive benefits,” he said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The ordinance he referred to has been on the books since 2008 and forbids food trucks from parking in one spot within the city for more than 30 minutes at a time. It is unpopular with food truck operators and those who frequent the trucks.

SactoMoFo organizers held the event to raise awareness of the ordinance and get it changed. They have also collected more than 3,500 signatures on a petition asking for the ordinance’s repeal, said Catherine Enfield, an organizer.

“The whole goal of that event was to have the City Council re-examine the ordinance, so yeah, it was a success,” she said Wednesday.

That movement seems to have the support needed on the City Council, which would require five total votes from its eight members and Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Councilmen Kevin McCarty, Darrell Fong, Steve Cohn and Jay Schenirer all said they support Rob Fong’s mission to revisit it. Mayor Kevin Johnson also said he agrees with overhauling the ordinance.

Councilwomen Angelique Ashby, Bonnie Pannell and Sandy Sheedy were not available for comment Wednesday.

Schenirer is the chairman of the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee, which will handle initial discussions on a revised or amended ordinance.

“I don’t know the timeline,” he said Wednesday, adding that he expects it will be a couple of months before it comes before the Law and Legislation Committee.

It’s possible that it could come sooner, but looming budget problems that will undoubtedly force layoffs will reduce available staff for working on the ordinance, he said.

“The event last Saturday was good for the city,” Schenirer said. “It’s bringing more options to people. It’s getting more people to experience different things.”

Cohn said it is “certainly time to update the rules.”

He said he is not sure what form that will take, but that a 30-minute limitation on parking and operating food trucks is unreasonable.

“There may be some restrictions, but I would think we can extend the 30-minute (rule) for certain locations where we think this would work.”

Some “brick-and-mortar” restaurant owners have previously argued that mobile food vendors will harm their businesses, and that’s something Darrell Fong said he will weigh when making his decision.

“I want to start a dialogue and listen to both sides,” he said. “From what we saw out there, I think they can (coexist).”

Darrell Fong’s brother, Derrick Fong, is a part-owner of Mikuni and is also involved with Star Ginger, a new restaurant from Lemon Grass owner Mai Pham.

“My brother thinks it can work,” Darrell Fong said. “It’s a different kind of food, and it works in other cities like Portland, Truckee and Napa.”

If mobile food trucks are eventually given more free rein to operate within the city, Darrell Fong said he wants to make sure they pay their fair share of taxes.

“I’m going to look at this as being a revenue generator,” he said. “They will be paying taxes just like any other restaurant. They will have the same responsibilities as other restaurants. We just need to make sure the ordinance is fair.”

Supporters of mobile food trucks will be speaking during public comment of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, when the issue is expected to be discussed, Enfield said.

Kathleen Haley contributed to this report. Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.

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Brandon Darnell

  • Restaurant owners are the ones who didn’t want food trucks operating. They didn’t want the competition.

    This is a chance for council members and businesses to support what’s best for Sacramento: a lively, growing food scene, urban events or offerings that get people out into the community and bring suburbanites here, and yes: competition!

  • The fancy, decorated food trucks at MoFo are one thing and could enhance a city. The tin Taco Trucks that frequent construction sites and empty lots are quite another and should remain restricted.

    • I don’t know if differentiating between “gourmet” trucks and those operated often by immigrants trying to grab a bit of the American dream is a good idea. We don’t have to have two classes of trucks. If you don’t like the lower-end “catering” trucks, then don’t eat at them; the market will encourage those offering interesting, fresh food.

    • What?? Taco trucks are awesome & just as much a part of this conversation as “fancy, decorated” food trucks. The last thing this movement needs is a line like that being drawn. I’m sure if this gets overhauled that restrictions will apply as to how many trucks can be in a given area etc – but saying what kind of trucks can & can’t exist is a step backwards.

    • William Burg

      I don’t understand the desire to restrict inexpensive mobile food trucks (while being preferential to gourmet trucks) at all. They provide a valuable service, providing low-cost lunches to working people, promote small startup businesses, and as the most mobile of food trucks, are the least affected by the current regulations (they are most likely to “hit and run” worksites, vs. higher-end trucks that prefer setting up predictable hours to garner regulars.)

  • Paul Brown

    I like the food trucks, but want to ensure that they are subject to the same health and safety inspections that brick-and-mortar food establishments.

    • Brandon Darnell

      Hi Paul,

      The food trucks are inspected by the health department just like restaurants, and they must have business licenses and pay taxes as well.

    • Actually, given that the trucks have to be cleaned out every night in a licensed commissary, are owner operated and cleaned, and get frequent planned and unannounced inspections (as well as commissary inspections), Count health officials tell us they are substantially cleaner than most restaurant kitchens.

  • One issue is that some of these “food trucks” operate on a “cash basis”, they don’t keep records of receipts, they don’t have to pay rent or utilities and can potentially hurt Sacramento small businesses. How can the city collect taxes if they only take-in cash?

    • Brandon Darnell

      That was one of the concerns Councilman Darrell Fong mentioned when I spoke to him. He said it is something they will look at when they revisit the ordinance.

    • The same way the city makes sure that the hundreds of restaurants that only take cash pay their taxes – via audits and inspections. The Franchise Tax Board actually spends more time, per business, making sure cash-only businesses (like food trucks) pay their taxes than brick & mortar shops.

      Prior to the current 30 minute limit/ban, many trucks were paying rent or leasing parking lots and other underused spaces within the city. Now they can’t – let’s give local businesses the right to have the trucks on their property if that’s what they want. Many are asking for trucks to park in their lots and elsewhere, to bring customers in … and right now they can’t do that.

    • moehong has it right. Every business takes cash, and we are not losing sleep over that.

    • bye bye Sacpress

      the idea that all transactions must be promptly recorded and reported to the government sound more like a Leninist principle than a GOP one. I assume cash businesses like Zelda’s pay some tax once in awhile.

      I would think that the GOP would be pretty much in favor of a guy who wants a taco and guy who has a taco being able to find some mutual agreement on how to conduct a mutually beneficial transaction over said taco. And be able to do it without too much government interference.

  • bye bye Sacpress

    Darrell Fong supports the taco truck movement, but only if customers travel there in a Yellow Cab taxicab. Otherwise he won’t get his $1000 payoff!

    http://www.sacramentopress.com/headline/50108/City_mulls_new_taxi_regulations

  • Lindol French

    Moehong!!!!!!! Word up. End Food Truck Prohibition Now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alaa Shabouni

    I am all for the food trucks’ triumph!

  • Lindol you are my hero.

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