COAST CITIES — Food trucks are gaining momentum across North County, but one question looms: How will cities handle the trend?
The first regular food truck gatherings have rolled into Encinitas and Del Mar, with the possibility of similar events in Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Oceanside in the next several months. Yet most of the North County cities’ municipal codes are vague or don’t specifically address food trucks at all.
That contrasts further south in San Diego proper, where food trucks have been a staple in many of the cities for years. Accordingly, codes and ordinances in those neighborhoods are more likely to spell out the rules for mobile vendors.
“The food trucks are unprecedented for us,” said outgoing Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard.
Food trucks began setting up on the Seagrove parking lot every Wednesday night for a three-hour event. In response to concerns over design requirements and whether the food trucks posed a threat to existing businesses, the Council called for a staff report, which will be released at a Nov. 19 Council meeting to gauge the pros and cons of the event.
The food trucks aren’t breaking any rules, but the staff report was necessary to determine the impact of gourmet food trucks, because existing city code pre-dates their arrival, Hilliard said.
“There’s certainly some grey area we need to figure out,” said Hilliard, adding that he’ll have a better idea of what the city should do once the staff report sees the light of day.
Ambiguities in city code haven’t deterred food trucks from making their way up the coast.
“The food trucks that appear in North County are based in San Diego,” said Christian Murcia, owner of the food truck Crepes Bonaparte. “That’s their home market and where they park — where the infrastructure to support the food trucks is. The scene is more established there.”
Food trucks have proliferated in San Diego proper in recent years. As such, competition has increased in many neighborhoods. So food trucks ventured north to claim untapped markets in Del Mar and Encinitas.
Although not there currently, he said food truck owners would like to hold regular events in Carlsbad and Oceanside.
The food truck expansion has drawn the ire of some brick-and-mortar restaurants. In Encinitas more than 20 restaurants signed a letter in September addressed to the Downtown Encinitas Merchants Association expressing their concerns about the weekly food truck gathering. For his part, Murcia cautioned against cities imposing regulations on where and when food trucks can set up.
“Regulations on food trucks are nothing new, but cities find they’re costly and fail,” Murcia said, referencing food truck bans or limits in other California cities that were eventually overruled by sections of the California Vehicle Code, and a state law from 1984 forbidding cities from outlawing mobile food vendors.
“We should focus on collaboration, not elimination,” he added.
Encinitas Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she brought up the city’s outdated code governing food trucks at a Council meeting about a month ago. She’s optimistic the issue will be placed on a Council agenda within the next several months and the city’s policy will be updated.
“This is something that’s not going away,” Barth said.
Barth said she’d like to find a solution that strikes a balance between the food trucks entrepreneurial spirit and the community’s needs, especially in regards to trash, recycling and health issues.
Also, she’d like to promote “clear expectations” by creating a “one-stop-shop” checklist of requirements for new food trucks, or those considering hosting a food truck event, referring to a food truck gathering that was cancelled last month because of an unforeseen permit demand.
The Black Sheep, a yarn store located off of Coast Highway 101, began hosting food trucks in its parking lot in early August in exchange for a percentage of sales. However, two months into the event the city’s planning department determined Black Sheep would need to obtain a minor-use permit, as the event was larger than expected. The owners of The Black Sheep argued the city didn’t initially communicate the possibility of the permit. They have since said they will not pursue the permit due to its cost and the time required to obtain it.
Solana Beach City Manager David Ott said he’s been watching the food truck situation in Encinitas and Del Mar. Solana Beach has been playing host to sporadic food truck events, and a resident recently approached the city with a proposal for a regular gathering, he said.
He too, believes his city’s Council will review the food truck issue sooner than later. Currently, the city code forbids “mobile vendors” from parking on public property for more than 10 minutes, a policy that may need to be updated with the rise of gourmet food trucks, he said.
“We haven’t done all our research on whether this is good or bad,” Ott said. “We’ll need to look into it more.”