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City Council wants tougher food truck regulations

Should food trucks be required to move when they close for business each night?

Should they provide restrooms to customers?

Should they be allowed to sell near a school or park?

Those are a few of the questions the Napa City Council chewed on Tuesday night as members gave staff suggestions on what a new food truck ordinance might include.

Napa has 14 or 15 mobile food trucks, according to the city.

Previously, staff had asked the Planning Commission and an ad hoc committee, composed of truck operators, brick-and-mortar restaurant owners and others, 20 questions about what aspects of food truck operations should be regulated and how.

Wanting guidance on issues of disagreement, planning manager Rick Tooker asked the council last week for guidance on how a draft ordinance should be written.

Most council members said if the trucks provide a seating area that encourages customers to sit and eat their food on site, there should also be a bathroom available to customers, including those with disabilities.

“It’s just common cleanliness,” said Councilman Mark van Gorder. “People should have the ability and be encouraged to wash their hands before eating. There should be a toilet, a sink, running water and soap and those should also be ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act)-accessible.”

Food trucks are permitted and monitored by the county health department, which already requires the trucks to be located within 200 feet of a restroom that is available to their employees, according to a staff report.

Those participating in the stakeholders’ meeting did not think food trucks should be required to provide restrooms, regardless of whether they offer a seating area, Tooker said.

City staff and planning commissioners echoed the council’s thought that restrooms should be provided if seating is provided.

The council was less clear on whether trucks should be allowed to set up shop within 300 feet of a school or park. Staff expressed concern that many high school students would gather around a food truck around lunch time, Tooker said.

Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said Napa police would be concerned in instances when students would need to cross a street to get to a food truck.

Van Gorder said he would rather not see food trucks in park environments where people often go to get away from “commercial business.”

Mayor Jill Techel said she would hesitate to create regulations that would prevent food trucks from assembling at events like softball tournaments held in parks.

The food truck ordinance, which could be written by the beginning of the new year, is not intended to prevent special events that could make use of food trucks, Tooker said.

Councilman Peter Mott said given the work that’s being done to revamp the downtown area and the drafting of a Downtown Napa Specific Plan, he would like to see food trucks kept out of the area.

“There’s plenty of other places in the rest of the community,” Mott said. The city is trying to create a different ambiance in the downtown area where food trucks may not fit, he said.

Regardless of where the trucks are allowed to locate, they may be required to move after hours.

Councilwoman Juliana Inman said the trucks should not be allowed to stay in the public right of way at night, while Councilman James Krider expressed concern that trucks, if allowed to stay in one spot for days and nights without end, could become a blight on the city.

“We run the risk of a food truck being parked somewhere indefinitely,” he said.

Tooker said trucks are already required to leave their posts at least once a day to fill their kitchens at commissaries where the food is prepared. For this reason, the food truck stakeholders said they do not feel they should have to store their vehicles off-site at night.

Techel sided with city staff who said the trucks are mobile and should be required to move at night.

“When a food truck becomes a permanent piece of property, then I think it’s changed and it’s under a whole new set of rules and regulations than this business,” Techel said.

Colin Simonson, a co-owner of the Crossroad Chicken food truck that operates outside JV Wine & Spirits in the Oxbow district, said the current ordinances make it impossible for food trucks to do business, if those regulations were enforced.

For example, food trucks are required to move their operations every 15 minutes, which is not even enough time to park and set up shop, Simonson said.

“The rules that are in place right now are outdated,” he said. “They make it really hard to do business. … “I think some good things can come of (the new ordinance).”

Wilber Valencia, owner of the Tacomania truck that operates on Salvador Avenue, said he is hopeful the new regulations will be a good thing, although he does not think mobile food operations should be treated differently than brick and mortar businesses.

“Some of those regulations will help us,” he said. “They will make us work inside the law, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The Napa Chamber of Commerce, which originally called for the meetings, expressed support of the process and pending ordinance.

“I think at the end of the day, we’ll come up with a policy that works for everybody and balances the needs of the consumers, the food trucks and the brick and mortar restaurants,” said Ryan Gregory, chairman of the Napa Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a big job, balancing all that together.”

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