The Wild West era of Los Angeles mobile food trucks is likely coming to an end, as a City Council committee heard testimony today on how to regulate the 4,000 trucks that are a prandial delight to many but a nuisance to others.
The transportation committee, led by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, heard concerns about oversized trucks hogging curb parking in front of brick-and-mortar restaurants, refuse left behind for neighbors, and a lack of health and safety standards. Mobile truck proprietors said it's a myth that they are unregulated, and they celebrated the paradigmatic shift of bringing food to the customers, which has energized the food scene and benefited some neighborhoods. The committee instructed staff to study the matter and come back with some potential solutions.
Rosendahl, Councilmen Tom LaBonge and Councilmen Paul Koretz have all been prodded by constituents to address problems.
LaBonge showed photos of Wilshire Boulevard, with mobile food trucks lined up as far as the eye could see. Conventional restaurants say they are taking up precious curb parking and have a competitive advantage because they don't face the same regulatory scrutiny, while also enjoying street visibility. (Business school 101: If losing, seek regulatory relief!)
LaBonge suggested the possibility of special parking zones. He also raised the possibility of capping the number of trucks, as with taxis. (Also known as creating a cartel.)
City staff reported that other cities have a permitting process that allows them to enforce basic regulations. Councilman Richard Alarcon, recently indicted for not living in his district and looking appropriately drained, said a permitting process would be pointless if not enforced.
On that score, Koretz expressed frustration that the Department of Transportation doesn't simply enforce parking regulations in the residential neighborhoods where his constituents deal with trash on their stampeded lawns and trucks regularly parked illegally.
City staff said a ticket is viewed by many food truck operators as the cost of doing business.
Koretz recommended a tougher approach: “As far as I'm concerned we could give them a ticket every half hour.”
Bonnie Bloomgarden, who runs the food truck for the famous Canter's Deli, said the trucks are providing “affordable, healthful and creative options for eating in a difficult economic time.” She said the trucks pay taxes and rent and provide thousands of jobs while contributing to the special character of the city.
The committee will discuss the issue again in 60 days. The next battle will come in a few weeks, as the county, which regulates food safety, considers how to apply safety standards to food trucks.