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SF Supervisor Backs 'Street Food' Cause

by Chris Hinyub, published

A new bill working its way through California's State Assembly could ground a fleet of food trucks whose aim is to allow communities to reconnect and reinvest using hot meals, says a group of Bay Area mobile vendors.

Like farmers markets, “Street Food markets” are growing roots in California. Nowhere is this more apparent than in San Francisco, one of only a handful of localities that considers food policy to be a priority. Mobile food vendors in the city have organized into a thriving and increasingly more health-conscious industry, thanks in part to the work of Off the Grid – a group that organizes, promotes and manages a dozen weekly mobile gourmet food markets throughout the greater bay area.

But San Francisco faces a dilemma: stay the course on its war with childhood obesity by preventing food trucks (that might serve junk food) from tempting schoolchildren, or ease the regulatory burden on an entrepreneurial movement that could very well provide positive economic and social outcomes.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener thinks there might be a middle way: local control of mobile food vending ordinances.

On Tuesday, Wiener held a press conference announcing a nonbinding resolution to oppose Assemblyman William Monning's (D-Santa Cruz) bill AB1678. Monning, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, is pushing statewide legislation that would ban food trucks from operating within 1,500 feet of public or private grade schools as well as middle and high schools on days when schools are in session. He says the trucks undermine advances the state has made “in providing healthful nutrition in the schools.”

Current legislation provides mobile food vendors an exemption for private property and parks. The bill being considered would get rid of this provision. If he can't defeat what he calls an extreme piece of legislation, Supervisor Wiener at least wants it amended so localities can opt out.

A crowd of mobile food vendors and their supporters attended Tuesday's event, which was also an occasion for Wiener to propose a city ordinance that would decrease the buffer area around schools to about a block, instead of the current 3 block minimum. A map of San Francisco presented by Wiener showed that a large majority of the city would be closed to mobile food trucks if Monning's measure passes – the natural consequence of high population densities, he said.

“[Wiener] also pointed out,” a recent Off the Grid blog post reads, “that if AB1678 passes, brick and mortars in the very limited areas where food trucks would be allowed to serve would be hit even harder than they allegedly are now.”

Monning says that he's aware of Wiener's concerns and that he's open to a compromise, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. AB 1678 is expected to be heard in committee in late March or early April.

For the pro-mobile food vending camp this is an issue of food diversity, consumer choice and community enrichment. It is a matter, they say, that should be handled on a local level. The prospect of hurting small business upstarts should be reason enough for San Francisco's board to scrutinize AB1678, some critics say.

San Francisco streamlined its food truck permitting process a year ago, making it easier and cheaper for applicants. So far, the city has issued more than 100 food truck permits with no upward limit on how many it can hand out.

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