Wiener Wants To Relax Food Truck Laws

Wiener bill aimed at relaxing existing ordinance that bars food trucks within 1,500 feet of public schools

Food trucks play a critical role in the food culture in San  Francisco, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who plans to introduce  legislation today to relax restrictions on where they can operate.
    At this afternoon's Board of Supervisors meeting, Wiener also  plans to introduce a resolution opposing state legislation that would  essentially ban the trucks from most neighborhoods in the city by requiring  that food trucks keep a minimum distance of 1,500 feet from all schools, both  public and private.
    According to Wiener, because of San Francisco's density, Assembly  Bill 1678 -- authored by Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel -- would ban food  trucks in all but a handful of neighborhoods, including the Haight, the  Castro and the Mission.
    "This is a very non-urban approach ... 1,500 feet -- three blocks  -- is a big deal, particularly when you're talking about every school in the  city," Wiener said at a news conference this morning.
    The local legislation Wiener will introduce today aims to relax an  existing San Francisco ordinance that bars food trucks within 1,500 feet of  public middle and high schools, with an exception for trucks operating in  parks.
    The ordinance was enacted to encourage students to participate in  school lunch programs. However, although most of the city's public high  schools allow students to leave campus during lunch, middle schools do not --  which Wiener said means there is no reason to ban the trucks near those  schools.
    "We overshot," Wiener said of the city law.
    His recommended revision would reduce the minimum distance to 500  feet, or about one city block.
    "Regulating food trucks does not mean killing off food trucks," he  said. "It's about balance."
    According to Wiener and Matt Cohen, the organizer of the Off the  Grid network of food trucks who is credited with popularizing street food in  the city, what is lost in over-regulating food trucks is diversity in  offerings to consumers and in entrepreneurs.
    Food trucks, Wiener said, are a "route to entrepreneurship for  many people," including immigrants.
    Cohen began working with five trucks 18 months ago and now  coordinates about 50 trucks, most of which he said are women- or  minority-owned.
    The one-size-fits-all state legislation would be a bad fit for San  Francisco, Cohen said.
    "It's bad for cities, it's bad for customers, and it's bad for  people who care about choice and diversity," Cohen said.
    He added that the legislation singles out food trucks for  allegedly being a source of unhealthy food.
    "It does nothing to stop the proximity of convenience stores,  fast-food restaurants or liquor stores" to schools, he said.
    Not all food trucks cater to indulgence, said Monica Wong, one of  the founders of Little Green Cyclo, a Vietnamese street food truck that  offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
    "Fighting childhood obesity is a must and obviously should be a  priority, but AB 1678 is not the way to go about it," Wong said. "Food trucks  are not the problem."
    Part of the solution, Wiener said, is to allow local governments  -- rather than the state -- to regulate food trucks, just as local  governments regulate most land-use matters.
    To achieve that, Wiener said the state bill should be withdrawn or  amended to allow local governments to opt out of the requirements.
    "We have to make decisions locally about what is best for our  county," and the state legislation takes that away, he said.

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