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City prepares mobile food vendor ordinance


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council directed staff to draft an ordinance that would restrict food trucks in residential areas, including the Los Altos High School neighborhood.

Los Altos High students may soon need to find a new way to get their fill of food-truck menu items.

The Los Altos City Council last week directed City Attorney Jolie Houston to research and prepare a draft ordinance that would limit the presence of mobile food vendors in residential areas of the city. The move comes after the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District (MVLA) and some residents sought the city’s assistance in limiting the presence of mobile food vendors at lunch near Los Altos High.

As previously reported by the Town Crier, MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves outlined his request in an email, telling the council that the vendors offer Los Altos High students unhealthful menu items compared to the offerings found at the school cafeteria.

At the time, Groves said the district stands to lose approximately $40,000 in food sales annually because of the food trucks. He added that the city of Mountain View passed an ordinance last year banning food trucks on the public right-of-way within 100 feet from schools.

MVLA Associate Superintendent Laura Stefanski told the council last week that the food trucks near Los Altos High School offer foods not available on campus since the passage of California Senate Bill 12 in 2005. The bill set limits on the amount of fat, saturated fat, sugar and calories in foods sold by state K-12 public schools. Instead of patronizing the trucks, she suggested, students should seek food alternatives near campus.

“For those students desiring to leave campus for lunch, our downtown here in Los Altos is within walking distance, and there are many eateries which do provide nourishing and healthy foods,” said Stefanski, who noted that the district is aiming to combat childhood obesity with the ban as well.

Several residents near Los Altos High told the council that the presence of the food vendors can lead to pollution and noise problems in their neighborhood. Among them was Jardin Drive resident John Wagner, who informed the council that students line up daily to get their “quota of grease” near his home. Often, he added, students will leave trash behind on the street and in residents’ yards.

“We have problems here – this is a residential neighborhood,” he said. “Things zoned residential should not allow commercial operations – be they fixed or on wheels.”

Prior to the council’s direction to draft the ordinance, Councilwoman Val Carpenter said she was sensitive to the residents’ concerns. Still, she questioned the effectiveness of any ordinance that prohibits mobile vendors within a certain distance from a school.

“If our students are capable of walking whatever it is – half a mile or a mile – to downtown, they’re probably capable of walking in a different direction to find where the mobile food truck is,” she noted, while adding that the ordinance should apply to all of the city’s schools.

With other pressing city issues to tackle, Houston told the council that the ordinance would likely take two to three months to research and prepare. She added that it would require initial review from the Planning and Transportation Commission, as well as the Los Altos Police Department, before returning to the council for final approval.

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