Encinitas clamps down on food truck event

Encinitas clamps down on food truck event
The future of “Food Truck Fridays” is in doubt at its original location in The Black Sheep parking lot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the food trucks are going anywhere. Some of the food truck owners plan to operate in public parking. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — Even though it was picking up speed, the city’s first regular food truck gathering was recently forced to come to a halt. 

The organizers behind “Food Truck Fridays” say there won’t be any events in the near future, and possibly ever again due to an unforeseen permit demand from the city. While it may end for good, some food trucks are contemplating moving to a nearby public spot, which could prompt the city to review its food truck policy.

The Black Sheep, a yarn shop located off of Coast Highway 101, began hosting food trucks in its parking lot in early August. For more than a month-and-a-half, foodies flocked to the event every Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

“We started the event on a whim and didn’t know how successful it would be,” said Tom Henderson, who owns The Black Sheep with his wife Karen.

But the last food truck gathering was Sept 21. Several days prior, the city asked The Black Sheep to discontinue the event. According to a ruling from the planning department, The Black Sheep, along with any other private-property owners considering playing host to weekly food truck gatherings, will now need to obtain a minor-use permit, otherwise the food trucks and The Black Sheep risk receiving fines.

Henderson argued the city didn’t initially communicate the possibility of needing a minor-use permit.

In July Henderson floated the idea of a food truck event to the city. He was told the food trucks must acquire an Encinitas business license, as well as meet health and vehicle codes — no other requirements were voiced, Henderson said.

“The city never even alluded to a minor-use permit,” Henderson said. “It came out of the blue.”

A minor-use permit is required because the events were larger than expected and held weekly, not a one or two-time event, according to the city.

In response, Henderson said he wasn’t made aware that regular versus one-off events “could even be an issue.”

The food trucks operated on their property once a week in exchange for The Black Sheep getting a percentage of the sales.

Some suggested the event was fast becoming one of the most popular food truck events in San Diego County, Henderson said. Statistics aren’t kept for a city-by-city comparison. But in addition to anecdotal evidence, some of Henderson’s own numbers indicated a mushrooming event: On average, food sales increased 25 percent at each event, though growth slowed during the last two weeks. Also, Food Truck Fridays started with four food trucks and grew to seven.

Although the event was profitable, Henderson said he isn’t sure whether he’ll pursue a minor-use permit. The process can take six months and the permit costs $1,600, including additional expenses for traffic studies, public hearings and other studies. The permit can be denied at any point in the process and the fees are nonrefundable, Henderson said.

“The food truck event was an experiment,” Henderson said. “There was some controversy, but overall it seemed to be well received. I don’t think people want it to go. We’re weighing our options.”

According to Kerry Kusiak, senior planner with the city, Encinitas’ municipal code does not specifically govern food trucks. The city based its decision on a section of code that states minor-use permits are necessary when items are sold outdoors on private property as part of regularly scheduled events.

“The food trucks were uncharted territory for us,” Kusiak said. “In addition to the code, we determined they would need a minor-use permit after gauging the impacts on traffic, parking and other considerations.”

Currently, the city’s code does not require special permits or prohibit food trucks operating on public streets, as long as they follow the California Vehicle Code, according to Kusiak.

Christian Murcia, owner of Crepes Bonaparte, one of the food trucks that participated in the event, said the city’s ruling will push food trucks to set up shop on public property, which may further anger brick-and-mortar-restaurants that weren’t happy about Food Truck Fridays.

At the end of August, more than 20 restaurants signed a letter addressed to the Downtown Encinitas Merchants Association expressing concern over the gatherings.

“The city should waive the minor-use permit on public property,” Murcia said. “I think restaurants would much prefer us contained and parked on private property, rather than just being on the street right in front of their businesses.”

Murcia estimates that the end of Food Truck Fridays will eat away at 10 percent of Crepes Bonaparte’s bottom line. But maybe not for long, he said. As something of a protest, Murcia and other food truck owners are planning on operating once a week for several hours at public parking spaces just east of The Black Sheep, he said.

Encinitas hasn’t passed any ordinances barring or curtailing food trucks selling food on public property. As such, the food trucks would only be subject to same code and parking requirements as other vehicles.

Some cities have tried to ban or limit food trucks on public and private property with ordinances, only to be overruled by sections of the California Vehicle Code and a state law from 1984 forbidding cities from outlawing mobile food vendors.

Last month, in Monrovia, Calif. an ordinance restricting where food trucks can operate was overturned. The city had to settle with the SoCal Mobile Vendors Association and pay $215,000 in attorney’s fees.

Should it take the necessary steps, The Black Sheep could potentially appeal the city’s code at a planning commission meeting, Kusiak said. If they don’t like that decision, they could make their case at a City Council meeting.

 

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  1. Josh S. says:

    1. Your subscriber policy is lame. Walled gardens dies in the 90s.
    2. Also lame, Encinistas wanting their $1600 for a permit when tax revs (possibly higher?) would have done just fine. What happened to the free market and American efficiency? Boo Hoo downtown restaurants, losing a percentage on Friday nights sales. I’d love to see the company names who signed the letter… Sour grapes. I hope the trucks park in front of their places…

  2. jstreet says:

    I think the City should have continued to allow the event for a certain period of time while working with the owners of the Blacksheep, food trucks, other brick-and-mortar business owners to address concerns and while working through the permitting process. If, after that time, the permit was denied or permit process not completed, then shut the event down. Seems unfair to require permit after the fact. It’s also a good thing for the community.

    I also encourage the owners of the Blacksheep to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $1600 for the permit.

  3. Jason M says:

    This is sad for the people of Encinitas. The brick and mortar restaurants should realize that it also brings attention to their establishments. Also, if you serve good food and have great customer service why should you worry about a food truck gathering?

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    I also feel that the City should not demand a permit “after the fact.” It seems unfair, and legally questionable that food trucks, according to precedent, cannot be be prohibited from gathering to sell on public property, while a kind of “tax” is being charged by the City of Encinitas, related to their gathering on a PRIVATE PROPERTY parking lot. Rules for selling on public property should not be LESS STRINGENT than the rules required for private property sales.

    The permits to operate publicly, within the City of Encinitas, should also be sufficient for the food trucks to gather, once a week, for limited hours, on private property. Private property rights should not be abridged. Plus, if taken to court, this could be found to be an illegal tax.

    The problem is that the City of Encinitas needs to keep increasing fees, such as permitting fees for private home remodels, and fees charged to seniors and others at the community center, or for individuals taking surfing lessons at a surf camp, because it has not been a good steward of the monies in our General Fund. We keep having to increase debt, most recently through attempting to float bogus lease revenue bonds, when there is no revenue stream except the City’s General Fund. General Obligation Bonds would allow a public vote on increasing public indebtedness, but Council skirts around that by attempting to employ more legal loopholes, and ever increasing fees.

    The City continues to spend, especially on unfunded pension liabilities, far more than it takes in. This apparently requires, in the eyes of administrative staff, that the food trucks and Black Sheep have to help “make up the difference,” by paying an unjustified fee, which amounts to an unfair tax and an abridgement of private property rights!

  5. Sean S. says:

    This really makes me want to boycott the local Encinitas restaurants. If they can’t handle a little competition for 3 hours a week from a few food trucks, then maybe they are not good enough to earn my business in the first place. To survive in the restaurant business, you need to have great food and service. Maybe they don’t and they are afraid of others that do. Maybe the competition would cause them to have to improve their game…and they don’t want to work hard for our business. They just lost my business.

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