By Diego Abeloos
The Los Altos City Council last week unanimously voted in favor of an ordinance that restricts food-truck operations within the city – but doesn’t ban them outright.
The approved first reading of the ordinance calls for a 100-foot ban on mobile food vendors from Los Altos intersections and at least 15 feet from residential driveways. In addition, the regulation bans food trucks from operating within 300 feet of each other and limits operation hours to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
The regulation requires all mobile vendors to secure permits through the city, provide trash receptacles for customers and pick up any litter generated within 100 feet of their operations. The amended ordinance must return to the council for a final reading and vote.
The ordinance appeared before the council after more than 70 residents near Los Altos High School – a popular site for food trucks – submitted a petition in July asking for a ban on vending operations in residential areas. Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District officials also sought the ban, citing childhood obesity as a concern.
City Attorney Jolie Houston’s staff report noted that an outright ban of mobile food wasn’t allowed, based on California case law and the vehicle code.
The council approved a less-restrictive ordinance, eliminating a provision in the original draft that banned vendors within 300 feet of public schools, parks, playgrounds or recreational facilities.
Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins noted that the 300-foot rule would simply result in mobile food trucks moving business to other areas – such as surrounding residential areas near Los Altos High.
“The lesser of the two evils may be keeping it where it is allowed to abut the high school,” Bruins said before her vote.
Reaction from residents
A handful of residents living near the high school told the council that the 300-foot provision could potentially make things worse in their neighborhood and other areas where food trucks operate.
John Wagner told councilmembers that 300 feet wasn’t sufficient to curb the problem, instead favoring “something much bigger,” such as a quarter-mile radius ban from public schools, parks and more.
Casita Way resident Nadim Malouf added that the provision “simply shifts the problem from one corner to the next. The sense is, all you’re doing is creating another set of problems, another set of issues, with trucks now moving up the street on Casita and perhaps other streets to continue what they’ve been doing for the last year or so.”
Judy Hannemann, MVLA district board trustee, reiterated the school district’s original stance that it was “very concerned” about teenage obesity issues. Hannemann agreed that a 300-foot ban wouldn’t make “that big of a difference.”
Councilmembers agreed to strike the 300-foot provision after some noted that its inclusion wouldn’t make the grass greener on the other side.
Bruins specifically said eliminating the provision would allow vendors to continue operating on public property abutting the high school – while also keeping operations and potential problems such as litter and noise from moving into residential areas.
“The good news about that, if there is such a thing, is that it’s parked against the school property, the kids are congregating on the school property for the most part. … You move it 100 feet, 300 feet, 500 feet – I don’t care where it is – you’re now putting them where the food truck is going to be (located) with houses on both sides,” she said. “Some poor resident ends up with that food truck in front of their house, and that means the congregating is going to occur on someone’s front lawn.”
Councilwoman Val Carpenter added that the opposite tack of adopting a larger restriction – such as an 1,800-foot ban from schools and other public areas by San Francisco – wouldn’t keep Los Altos High students on campus, because many routinely walk downtown for lunch.
Councilman Jarrett Fishpaw said students gathering for lunch at food trucks abutting the school shouldn’t be accused of nefarious activity.
“To be quite honest, I believe the kids have the right to congregate on the sidewalk behind the high school, especially during lunchtime, when they have an hour or 40 minutes between classes,” he said. “Congregating on the sidewalk behind the school is not a shady operation – it’s a place to be.”