DOWNTOWN — In a move that could run up against a legal barrier, the board of the Bayside District Corp. has formally urged the City Council to ban food trucks from doing business in Downtown Santa Monica.
The organization’s 13-member board of directors overwhelmingly supported the idea at a meeting last week, recommending the council adopt a ban at least until additional restrictions on the mobile vendors can be put in place.
Just two board members, Patricia Hoffman and Rob Rader, dissented after arguing a study on the vendors’ impacts should be conducted before any action is taken.
As the body that oversees Downtown Santa Monica, Bayside’s move is a clear sign that merchants — and especially restaurateurs — in the city’s commercial core view the trucks as a serious competitive threat. Bayside’s recommendation was to ban the trucks within the area bounded to the west by Ocean Avenue, to the east by Fifth Street, to the south by Colorado Avenue and to the north by Wilshire Boulevard.
Reducing the trucks’ access to Santa Monica’s busy Downtown streets, though, could be tricky to accomplish.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said any ban on the trucks would have to be enacted for a public safety reason, not simply to prevent the trucks from competing with restaurants.
“We would be unable to impose an outright ban unless we could show that there were safety risks associated with food trucks’ use of the Downtown streets,” she said. “Perhaps we could show that, but that [proof] would be required.”
So far, Bayside members have mostly complained about what they see as the trucks’ unfair competition with restaurants, their use of scarce public parking spaces and emissions generated by their engines rather than their impact on public safety.
Matthew Geller, the president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said he didn’t see a way to successfully ban the trucks from public streets.
“As far as the legal basis, there isn’t any,” he said.
Instead, Geller said merchants and food truck owners should work together to come to an agreement about how to successfully coexist.
“If there is an issue with food trucks and Downtown merchants don’t want them there, I would love it if they reached out to me,” he said.
Meanwhile, the City Attorney’s Office is continuing to study options for further regulating food trucks.
The City Council has not yet said whether it will consider Bayside’s recommended ban.