Mobile Food Vendors, Cities Seek Middle Ground
Food Truck Ruckus
Parking is a competitive business, and it’s playing a major part in the outcome of another competitive business – the food truck industry. The traditional food truck and the musically inclined ice cream truck are no longer the only mobile eateries on the streets these days. A new generation of food trucks offering exotic and gourmet fare are out in force, creating great interest and drawing large crowds.
While most people seem to agree that the food is great and the venue a novelty, city regulations are not always conducive to the trend. During the last three years, the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association (SocalMFVA) has sued six Southern California cities for regulations it says are outdated and illegal.
Attorney Kevin Behrendt, who represents the SocalMFVA, said that before any lawsuits are filed, his group tries to meet with cities and their planning committees and community development departments to address the situation before problems arise.
“We don’t like having to file lawsuits. We try to work with cities,” he said. “Most of the laws on food trucks in LA County are 50 years
old. They relate to a different time – a different type of food truck environment.
“We have worked with Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Torrance,” Behrendt said. “Our clients are advocates of food trucks. We just want an open dialogue.”
The city of El Segundo, on Santa Monica Bay, is the municipality most recently sued for its laws regarding food trucks, after a mobile food vendor received a ticket there for being parked more than 10 minutes.
“A 10-minute parking limit is impossible for a food truck to operate within,” Behrendt said. “An ice cream vendor can do it because they have prepared food, but a food truck is a preparation vehicle,” he noted. “We attempted to avoid filing the lawsuit, but we never heard back from the city. They owe us the courtesy of a response.”
El Segundo City Manager Greg Carpenter said food trucks have not been seen as a problem, and are active in the community serving some of the larger employers, as well as participating in local events.
“We have not made food trucks a major local issue,” he said, “and I think this came about as a result of a single complaint from a food truck [vendor]. In general, the city has not taken an aggressive stance toward food trucks, and we were a little surprised that this litigation came about.”
Carpenter said he recognizes the need to address laws regarding food truck activity in El Segundo.
“We want to have a compliant local regulation. It has been pointed out to us that we may have issues with the age of our current ordinance,” he said. “Our general direction is to work with the food truck association to amicably resolve the issue.”
Of the other SoCal cities involved in lawsuits with the food vendors association, three banned food trucks outright. Pasadena, City of Industry and Arcadia do not allow food trucks to operate on city streets. Behrendt said that type of regulation is illegal, and the lawsuits are being resolved.
The city of Monrovia was sued after it passed a new law to protect its standing local businesses. “We had concerns, and we reached a settlement,” Behrendt said. “They agreed to repeal the law and replace it with what we believe are more intelligent regulations.”
As with El Segundo, the case against the city of West Hollywood is still pending. “We worked with them for 10 months,” Behrendt said. “We simply came to a disagreement over what was legal and what was valid. We didn’t agree, and we had no choice but to sue them. That’s the reason we have courts.”
Caleb Marks owns the Chi-Town Hustler food truck based in Las Vegas. He travels to and from there to many locations in the Western states for food truck events. Marks said he encounters similar challenges wherever he goes, including limits to how close he can park to standing restaurants, stringent health codes, and exacting business license requirements.
“Every city has its own rules and regulations,” he said, “and we just have to abide by them.”
In Las Vegas, the time constraints are reasonable, Marks said, but he is not allowed to park within 150 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“It doesn’t seem fair. I understand they are stuck. We can leave when there is no clientele,” he said. “We have to follow the law, but I don’t see the cause in it.
“Next to McDonalds, there’s a Chinese restaurant. There are strip malls with nothing but restaurant, restaurant, restaurant. We do the same thing a normal restaurant would do – we’re just mobile.”
Marks said his main concern is serving quality food. His goal is to someday turn his food truck business into a brick-and-mortar establishment, with a solid following.
“If you do good business and you pay attention to the laws and don’t break them, you shouldn’t have any trouble,” Marks said.
Behrendt, the SocalMFVA attorney, said there are many good reasons for cities and mobile food vendors to work together.
“Our industry is so suited for fund raisers,” he said. “The association has raised a lot of money for schools, museums and charities. We try to create a very positive relationship, because it can be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“We think it’s a good industry,” Behrendt said, “and we prefer to work with cities to come up with solutions to a unique situation.”
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s Amateur Parker, Proofreader
and Periodic Reporter. She can be reached at
Article Abstract from December, 2012