The city will begin rewriting its municipal code to clearly define modern food trucks, the permits they need and the regulations that apply, a Bakersfield City Council committee decided Thursday.
Members of the City Council’s Community Services Committee, which hadn’t met since April 2015, voted 2-0 to direct city staff to craft a new ordinance regulating the increasingly popular eateries, which aren’t always welcomed by restaurant owners.
A draft ordinance is expected to be ready when the committee meets again June 2.
Bakersfield’s current mobile vendor regulations limit food trucks to 10-minute parking on city streets and in the public right-of-way. Only one at a time can locate on a piece of private property — and they’re restricted to locating on paved commercial land zoned C-2.
Trucks must also be near an existing business and have approval from the business or property owner — and be at least 300 feet from schools, government institutions and public parks.
In November, the Downtown Bakersfield Development Corp., the nonprofit aimed at fostering downtown development, asked the city to review those rules.
The DBDC also asked the city consider extending the time trucks can park on the street to 30 minutes; allow more than one at a time on private property; and permit seating for diners.
Caleb Blaschke, a management assistant in the City Manager’s office, compared Bakersfield’s existing mobile vendor regulations with those of 13 other California cities and told the committee virtually all the other cities have updated their ordinances recently.
“Fresno just did theirs earlier this year. We’re right in line with everyone else,” Blaschke said in an interview.
Cathy Butler, the DBDC’s executive director, thanked the city for reviewing the issue.
“We’re about growing right now, and we’re glad you’re looking at this. It’s about making the streets and sidewalks alive, but at the same time working with brick-and-mortar,” Butler said.
Deputy City Attorney Richard Iger told the committee, which is comprised of City Council members, that Bakersfield has received a lot of complaints about vendors who “fall into a gap in our current laws,” and may be operating hybrid food truck-pushcart businesses.
City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said modern food trucks themselves — 12 permitted citywide, three of which locate downtown — may also not be adequately covered by the municipal code.
“We really do need to redefine and clarify,” said City Manager Alan Tandy. “A pushcart or an ice cream truck isn’t the same as a gourmet” food truck.
Kevin Bartl, chairman of the Downtown Business Association’s board of directors, said food trucks come up a lot in discussions about how to build a vibrant downtown.
“If I can have a ’kumbaya’ moment, I think we can all come together on this ... and coexist for the benefit of everybody downtown,” Bartl said.
But Jerry Baranowski, owner of Jerry’s Pizza on Chester Avenue, said he’s concerned food trucks may crowd out restaurants.
”These people creating a line in front of mobile food vendors, they didn’t go anywhere else,“ said Baranowski, whose restaurant marked its 20th anniversary in 2012.
”Under that theory, we would never allow any more businesses,“ said northwest Councilman Bob Smith, who asked Blaschke for any evidence food trucks hurt restaurants.
Blaschke pointed out restaurants pay property tax, and new restaurants pay traffic impact fees and sewer and building permits. But food trucks, he said, can be test kitchens for larger enterprise.
“Food trucks, lots of times, are used to test the market. Curbside, I think, has displayed that,” he said, referring to downtown food truck Curbside Kitchen.
The truck has partnered with Wayne and MaryAnn Arnold, owners of the now-former Downtown Deli Market building at 18th and H streets, and will develop a restaurant and bar there with a beefed-up food truck menu.
“I don’t really see that we’re in competition. I feel like we’re creating opportunity and drawing different types of people to downtown,” said Andy Escobar, one of Curbside Kitchen’s two partners, in an interview. “We embrace the downtown business owners.”
The partners didn’t attend the meeting because it was at noon — their lunch hour rush, one explained.
“In general, I’m in favor of updating the code. I’m not in favor of trying to restrict the expansion of food trucks,” Smith said. “I would hope we don’t regulate any more than we have to, to anybody.”
Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, who represents part of the southwest, said multiple restrictions might be a bad idea but food trucks might have to be restricted to a certain distance from traditional restaurants.
“We love the street vendors, but at the same time it’s not fair for me to go up and buy a hot dog in front of Jerry’s Pizza,” Sullivan said in an interview. “I just think maybe if that food vendor wasn’t there, maybe I’d go into Jerry’s Pizza.”
Councilman Willie Rivera, the committee’s third member, was absent.