CITY HALL — Santa Monica is about to undergo a food truck renaissance, following City Hall’s announcement this week that officials have approved a new permit that allows private property owners to turn their parking lots into “mobile food courts.”
Already, the California Heritage Museum and property owner Steve Taub, who owns a lot at Santa Monica Boulevard and 14th Street, have expressed interest in hosting gourmet food trucks on their properties.
Taub was behind the push to allow mobile food courts in Santa Monica after he attempted to rent his property out to food truck owners in January, only to be shut down by City Hall the day after hundreds of customers showed up for his first day in business.
Code compliance officers said the use wasn’t allowed under city zoning laws, which prompted the City Council to review its mobile food vendor policy.
On Tuesday, City Hall’s planning department said it would begin accepting applications for “temporary use permits” that would allow mobile food truck courts to operate. The permits would be good for up to three months and would be subject to renewal. The fee for a permit application is $953.72.
The plan is to review the program in four months, when the City Council would have the option of making it permanent, said Principal Planner Paul Foley.
Tobi Smith, executive director of the California Heritage Museum, said she submitted an application with the intention of hosting a weekly evening food truck court in the parking lot behind the museum, located on Main Street in Ocean Park.
“We thought it would be really fun to have the food trucks on a night that normally is dead to the world here on Main Street,” she said, probably a Monday or Tuesday.
She said the idea has the backing of both the Ocean Park Association and the Main Street Business Improvement Association. She hopes to host 10 trucks each week and to use the event to cross promote Main Street businesses with special discounts for food truck customers, she said.
“We’re hoping that by having food trucks here, Main Street will become more of a destination spot,” she said.
The museum, which leases its parking lot form City Hall, stands to earn income from the fees it plans to charge food vendors for the space.
City Hall said it will take about two weeks to review applications. Restrictions on operating hours and restroom and noise level requirements can be attached as conditions of approval. No application for a temporary permit has yet been approved, Foley said.
John Bowler, a founder of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, on Wednesday said he was pleased City Hall had decided to allow food trucks to operate on private property — a mode of doing business he said is gaining traction in the industry.
“It shows that the City Council of Santa Monica was willing to work with us and find an amicable solution to the problem,” he said.
Traditionally, food trucks have stationed themselves on public streets to sell meals, where vendors are subject to parking restrictions and other rules. Some Downtown restaurateurs complained, saying the food trucks have an unfair advantage since they do not have to pay assessments or high rents.
The mobile food court model, Bowler said, has benefits for food truck owners, who don’t have to worry about breaking the law, and for customers, who can choose from a variety of options.
“For the city,” he added, “it puts everyone in a manageable area.”