CITY HALL — The City Council punted a decision on whether or not to allow permanent food truck lots in Santa Monica, instead calling for more information on the impact of the mobile eateries on local businesses and the city as a whole.
Councilmembers balked at staff’s proposal to allow the food truck lots to operate under “performance standards permits,” a kind of permit that, once approved, stays with the physical site on which the lots do business.
That means that it would be difficult to shut down a lot if the presence of the food trucks one night a week at one spot on Main Street and up to three nights a week at four locations along Santa Monica, Lincoln and Pico boulevards ended up being detrimental to existing businesses.
The fact that the right to have a food truck lot, once awarded, would go with the land forever worried council members who wanted the freedom to reverse course if the consequences of their decision wreaked havoc on local businesses or neighborhoods.
“We’ve learned a lot about unexpected impacts in Santa Monica,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
At present, the two food truck lots that operate regularly in the city — one at Santa Monica Boulevard and 14th Street and another on Main Street — are authorized under temporary use permits.
As the name suggests, those permits aren’t meant to last forever and renewing them indefinitely isn’t a viable option, said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.
“They’re meant for very temporary uses,” Moutrie said. “The other alternative at the moment runs with the land. The thinking in our office is we have to do something other than what we’re doing now because ongoing use doesn’t go with the classification of permit we have now.”
The council’s hesitance wasn’t aided by the divisions within the community on the food truck question.
Members of the Main Street Business Improvement Association and representatives of restaurants on Main Street have spoken out against the popular food truck lot at the California Heritage Museum, which they feel takes customers from brick-and-mortar establishments and deprives others of parking.
Residents, however, expressed their support of the Tuesday food truck night on Main Street with many e-mails.
Even the Main Street Business Improvement Association is split on the issue, said Gary Gordon.
“If we polled all the (members) that have previously responded, we would keep it the way it is, temporarily,” Gordon said.
Rather than approve the staff recommendation, the City Council asked staff to look into creating an interim permit that would create a less-permanent status for the lots, that the lots continue to operate under temporary permits in the meantime and for staff to do some kind of study to look at the economic impacts of the trucks on local businesses and the city itself.
If it turns out that businesses on Main Street are suffering as a result of the lots, it might mean that city coffers are hurting as well, said Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis.
“(It would be) penalizing brick-and-mortar stores not just because they’re brick and mortar, but because they’re paying more to the city,” Davis said, referring to the tax loads on the businesses. “We may be harming ourselves for that very reason.”