The Santa Monica City Council gave approval to the modern dining phenomenon of mobile food trucks to create “food courts” in private parking lots.
The City will issue temporary use permits for private property owners to host the trucks after applications are reviewed, which takes about two weeks. City officials will monitor these mobile food courts for possible “adverse impacts on the neighborhood,” such as noise, litter, or traffic, before the City’s planning commission will propose a more “permanent solution,” said Principal Planner Paul Foley.
The fee for property owners to apply for the temporary use permit is $953.72. The permits will allow the courts for three months, treating the courts in the same manner as farmer’s markets or swap meets. No permits have been approved yet.
Matt Geller, co-founder of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said the food courts will offer variety for locals and keep trucks off the streets. The association educates truck owners on regulations and gives guidance through organizing the burgeoning business owners. Mobile food trucks parking on the street must obey ordinances, such as a 30-minute limit rule.
These mobile food courts actually eliminate traffic, he said, by keeping business professionals from jumping in their cars to travel to other areas for lunch. He promotes the lots that he said will reduce the “perceived detrimental effects” of trucks, such as parking or lines forming in the sidewalk.
Mobile food trucks attract followers by advertising their location on social network sites such as Twitter or Facebook. Geller said the member association has more than 82 trucks and growing, with ten of thousands of followers online. This fan base will bring new faces to areas such as Main Street, he said that may be slow during the week.
“That built in promotion will liven up an area,” Geller said of social-networking. “People might eat, and then go to bars and buy something from a merchant- – [this would happen without] a lot of work from local merchants to push an area up.”
Starting in January of this year, truck advocates campaigned for the right to gather together in cooperation with local businesses. A vacant parking lot on 1401 Santa Monica Boulevard, sometimes used to sell Christmas trees, and the California Heritage Museum on Main Street both had truck courts shut down. Advocates requested the option for a short-term ordinance.
The new permit system will give these lots a second chance.
Business owners, such as the museum, stand to make a profit from charging the vendors fees to park in the lots.
Some Santa Monica restaurant owners have countered that food trucks detract from business and have an advantage without having to pay large rents or fees, and create trash. Mark Verge, who owns 17 restaurants in Los Angeles including OP Café a staple in Santa Monica since the 1930s, wants a level playing field between trucks and restaurants.
Verge admits that he is a fan of food trucks, but not when trucks have pulled in front of OP and deliver similar food. He said the café employs local people and “serves the community” in a way food trucks from out of town can’t offer.
“They don’t let people move their mobile homes north of Montana and stay there,” Verge said. “I’m not the guy to fight it, I’m more the guy to make it fair.”
Food trucks also do not get the same health code ratings that restaurant owners receive. Verge said the current system allows for the trucks to be inspected and if they fail, then just move to another neighborhood.
Geller said the association promotes a rating system for food trucks, instead of the current ordinance enacted by Los Angeles County that lumps trucks with hot dog carts and ice cream trucks. He is campaigning for a similar rating system for trucks to “show how hard they are working.”