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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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