What an exciting idea! Food truck operators selling tasty treats on a vacant lot in the heart of Santa Monica. The daytime “Gourmet Food Truck Corner” set up shop last Monday at 14th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. But, it was shut down for zoning code violations within 24 hours.

Mobile food kitchens are red hot right now. Kogi the Korean/BBQ taco truck has become so famous, hundreds of fans flock to it and tweet friends about where it is at any given time.

Kogi was one of a number of vendors who had contracted with property owner Steve Taub through the newly-formed SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association to rent space, set up shop and sell food on a former used car lot.

“Approximately 20 trucks are expected to rotate … from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” reported Eater.LA.com. Purveyors included Barbie Q, Derb’s Gourmet, Let’s Be Frank, Cool Haus, Fish Lips, Border Grill, Grilled Cheese Truck, Little Spoon Desserts, India Jones, Fresser’s Hot Pastrami, and Dosa Truck among others.

LAist.com posted “Seven to eight trucks will be on rotation six days a week (no Sundays, unless there is a demand) with half the trucks during the lunch rush, the other half for dinner. Currently, there is on-site parking, a bathroom and garbage cans.” Taub had planned to “beef up the property … tables, chairs, WiFi, a dog area and bicycle parking,” they added.

In hip, let’s-be-cool Santa Monica, this adventure in outdoor eating lasted only a day.

This newspaper reported (Jan. 6, “City Hall shuts down food truck lot”), “City Hall code enforcement officers put the kibosh on the idea, showing up at the site Tuesday morning with a cease and desist order. Using the site … to sell food violated zoning codes the officers said.

“‘Basically, this was a non-permitted use of the food truck [vendors] on that lot,’ said Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager.”

She told our reporter the vendors never contacted City Hall about their plans and were circumventing land use rules. One vendor, a former Hermosa Beach City Council member said, he wasn’t surprised the lot drew City Hall’s attention. “We expected something from the city of Santa Monica, [but] we didn’t expect to be shut down outright.”

In this case, City Hall’s rapid enforcement of zoning codes probably broke a record for speed — and there wasn’t an oversized hedge in sight.

One can’t just bag on City Hall for this snafu. Although requiring that all food vendors have Santa Monica business licenses, apparently Taub neglected to check the zoning requirements for his property. Tsk, Tsk.

The lightning-fast response also raises questions about who complained. Maybe a councilman or well-connected City Hall influence peddler? Restaurant owners? Someone who wasn’t paid off?

I’ve been writing about City Hall for over a decade and lack of timely code enforcement has been the subject of many commentaries.

In 2001, the former Gaucho Grill on the Third Street Promenade had excessive seating, an unapproved remodel and lack of sidewalk dining permit but was never shut down. The planning department was even willing to overlook these serious violations by issuing a new Conditional Use Permit to make illegal, legal.

During a routine inspection, it was found that the Border Grill on Fourth Street had been operating without the usual city-required alcohol CUP from 1989 to 2004. It was never shut down, however its owners were fined. In 2006, the Border Grill received a new CUP which even eliminated the limit on the amount of alcoholic beverages it could sell.

Another former Downtown eatery, Juliano’s Raw at 609 Broadway had inadequate parking and was operating as an illegal restaurant in a retail space for years. It was never closed and was rewarded with a city alcohol CUP. I was told at the time that City Hall doesn’t like to shut down businesses — apparently unless they’re on an empty lot and serving food from trucks.

Many newer mixed-use projects receive height and density bonuses. I personally know of three projects where the required housing is non-existent. None of the buildings have been closed, cited or fined to my knowledge.

Many citizen noise complaints are as a result of code violations by restaurants and bars on Main Street, Wilshire Boulevard and other commercial thoroughfares. Not only are the complaints routinely ignored, violators are virtually never shut down, cited or fined and continue to operate, unabated.

Zoning codes should be enforced, but equally and fairly. There seems to be a double standard here. The speed of which this operation was shuttered raises serious questions about process, favoritism and rank hypocrisy.

Let’s hope that this food court gets approved and quickly. However, I’ll bet a good steak dinner that it’ll be a long, drawn-out process. The food trucks will move on, leaving all of us hungry and angry.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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