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Food fight

New regulations on mobile eateries spark debate

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Food trucks, once an inventive way to serve those looking to eat out, have come to be seen as a threat to traditional restaurants, initiating turf battles across the nation.

One of the latest battles is taking place in Del Mar, where a special permitting fee and new regulations for food trucks were just enacted by the city council.

Owners wishing to operate a food truck in the city now must pay a $350 annual operating permit, on top of the regular business license.

Some food truck operators say the new fee is unfair and too expensive.

"It's very clear to me they're trying to be restrictive enough to food trucks to make them not want to operate in the city," said Christian Murcia, the owner of Curbside Bites.

"Consumers want food trucks (here), and it’s a viable business. Unfortunately cities sometimes decide to restrict competition."

Since the new rules and fee went into effect on May 15, Del Mar hasn't received any applications for food trucks, although there have been a few inquiries.

Previously, the city had processed six applications since the trucks started arriving in the fall of 2012.

Del Mar Mayor Terry Sinnott said the city is not trying to discourage food trucks from serving in the city.

"Our intent was to make sure we have all of our health and safety requirements pinned down like we would for any other business offering food to public," he said.

Murcia said he does not plan on having any of his trucks operate in Del Mar anymore, because the cost is too prohibitive.

"They raised the fees over tenfold from what they were before, for a city of 5,000 people," Murcia said. "The fee in the city of San Diego is about $30."

Del Mar officials said the fee covers the labor costs of staff going out to the site, making sure that what is requested is being complied with and processing the application.

Erik Schraner, a land use attorney with the San Diego law firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, said it's not uncommon for certain industries to have extra permitting fees, like a conditional use permit.

"Certain uses require you to get different types of permits," he said.

Del Mar looked at how other cities were handling the regulation of food trucks, and they researched the industry.

Murcia questioned that study, saying he was never contacted.

"I was under impression from city council that they were like, 'We want you guys here. We like food trucks. We want to be able to understand the industry better and make sure it's mutually beneficial,'" Murcia said. "When they don't even make a phone call to a business to know how it operates, I kind of question the city's approach to making business relationships with food trucks."

He said some of the new ordinances are not practical, including a rule that prohibits any trucks from idling for more than five minutes per hour.

"I don’t know where they came up with that code, because the majority of trucks out there have to let their truck idle every hour for about 10-20 minutes in order for it to operate," Murcia said.

Idling allows the battery to stay charged and power the refrigeration units.

Murcia said the trucks can actually be beneficial to other businesses -- even restaurants -- by bringing people to areas they normally wouldn't visit otherwise.

He said his truck is welcomed at Westfield Mall in Mission Valley once a week.

The popularity of food trucks had caused for greater scrutiny, Schraner said.

"In the past, cities didn't have anything in their land use or zoning ordinances for them," he said. "That, of course, is changing now.

"You'll see more regulation in the future. Part of the whole issue with food trucks is that a lot of businesses, especially restaurants in a given location, feel they pay for a lot of permits and pay a high rent, and in some respects, they feel their customers are getting poached."

Sinnott said it's too early to pass judgment on the new regulations in Del Mar, and the city will likely revisit the issue later.

"Naturally, it takes a little bit of time making sure everything works properly and there are no bugs," Sinnott said. "If there're any issues or problems that crop up in the next few months, we're open to another hearing from the vendors."

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City of Del Mar

Company Website

1050 Camino del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014

City of Del Mar Executive(s):

Donald Mosier

  • City Council Member

Terry Sinnott

  • Mayor

Lee Haydu

  • Deputy Mayor

Al Corti

  • City Council Member

Sherryl Parks

  • City Council Member

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2014