Customers wait in line to order at the Mandoline Grill food truck on 31st Street in Sunset Park on Thursday afternoon. The number of food trucks doing business in Santa Monica has skyrocketed in the last two years, and Downtown business interests want City Hall to better regulate the mobile vendors. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Under pressure from an association of food truck owners, City Hall has backed away from its policy of requiring mobile vendors to move to a new location every 30 minutes when parked on a public street, much to the chagrin of some Downtown business owners.

The 30-minute rule, intended to prevent vendors from occupying prime spots for extended periods and siphoning off business from brick and mortar establishments, is still on the books but is no longer being enforced at the direction of the City Attorney’s Office, said Santa Monica Police Officer Mike Rosenberg.

The change came after the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association challenged a citation one of its members received in April for violating the 30-minute rule.

Matthew Geller, the association’s president, said his group chose to fight the citation on grounds the rule violated a section of California’s vehicle code that says local government regulations that relate to mobile vending on public streets must be solely for the purpose of public safety.

Cases in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, among other jurisdictions, have already validated the association’s position, Geller said.

City Hall this month dismissed the citation, and Rosenberg said he’s been instructed to allow food trucks to do business from a single public parking space for as long as posted time restrictions permit.

Reached on Thursday, a lawyer in the City Attorney’s Office, Yibin Shen, declined to comment on the change.

“We’re still waiting for an official policy change from the city of Santa Monica, but from what we can tell now, they’ve stopped enforcing [the 30-minute rule],” Geller said.

City Hall’s move adds another grievance to a long list of food truck complaints voiced by Downtown business owners.

“It becomes more of a concern when there isn’t a 30-minute time limit. The longer they stay, the more of an impact they have on the district,” said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corp., an organization that manages and promotes Downtown.

Bayside members have complained the trucks compete unfairly with Downtown restaurants, which have to pay a business district assessment in addition to premium lease rates — two expenses mobile food vendors avoid. Rawson said the district’s members are also concerned the food trucks have in effect found a loophole in Downtown’s moratorium on fast food restaurants and exacerbate the parking shortage by taking up public spaces.

“Business is tough right now, and certainly restaurants are becoming more vocal about their concerns,” Rawson said.

Meanwhile, the number of food trucks permitted to operate in Santa Monica has sharply increased in the past year, with a total of 117 trucks licensed to operate this fiscal year, up from 83 a year ago. During 2008-09, just 33 food trucks had permits to do business in Santa Monica.

Responding to complaints from members, Bayside’s Land Use and Asset Committee last week recommended reducing the number of trucks permitted to operate Downtown, and the organization’s full board on Thursday night was expected to vote on whether to send the proposal to the City Council for possible action.

“Certainly there’s enough concern from businesses in Downtown that this issue cannot be ignored,” Rawson said.

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