Customer Rich Radford picks up two lobster rolls from the Lobster Truck during the weekly food truck gathering at the Victorian (photo by Brandon Wise)

Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series that tracks the second and final reading of ordinances approved by the City Council. Second readings are generally held without public comment, although the issues have been discussed, often at length, during prior City Council meetings.

CITYWIDE — Fans of the mobile food truck craze will be able to digest with greater ease now that the City Council has adopted food safety standards used by county health inspectors.

The council on Tuesday held the second reading of an ordinance adopting the latest changes to the county’s health and food safety code, which require public health officials to increase the number of annual inspections of each mobile food vendor from one to two and assign letter grades after each inspection. Any mobile food vendor who receives below a C will be forced to close.

The county’s roughly 6,000 mobile food vendors are also required to provide inspectors with a detailed route sheet showing where they will be setting up shop and at what time. The route sheet is intended to make it easier for health inspectors to find the food trucks and other vendors.

“We’ve always inspected all food facilities, including mobile food facilities,” said Terrance Powell, director of the public health department’s Bureau of Specialized Surveillance & Enforcement Environmental Health Division. “This ordinance is to simply disclose to the public in an organized way information to help them make objective choices as a consumer.”

Powell said food trucks have always been there, it just seems like there are more because of the increased media attention and marketing efforts of the businesses. He said a task force has been created to look at the food truck phenomenon and how they can be better regulated. A major concern is trash created by the trucks and who should be responsible for keeping streets clean.

The council’s action was merely a formality. Since 1963, Santa Monica has delegated all public health and food safety enforcement to the county, at no cost to City Hall. Thus, as county public health and food safety laws change, City hall has, from time to time, incorporated those changes into the municipal code. The most recent incorporation was in 1998, according to a city staff report.

City staff is participating in the county’s task force. Food trucks have raised concerns amongst some in the Santa Monica business community who say the trucks are creating an uneven playing field as restaurants have to pay rent and sometimes assessments while food trucks only have to apply for and purchase a permit from City Hall to operate. The council has tried to create a compromise, setting up a food truck lot on Main Street where vendors congregate once a week.

“State law does not regulate competition and this gives rise to serious questions and examination that every municipality will have to conduct,” Powell said.

Bikes, bags and big development

The council also held the second reading for three ordinances dealing with the banning of single-use plastic bags, mandatory bicycle registration and development standards for real estate projects, particularly those planned for Downtown.

The issue that generated the most media attention of the three was the ban on single-use plastic bags. The council voted in favor of the ban after hearing from environmentalists about the dangers posed by plastics, particularly on marine life.

Under the ban, grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores are allowed to provide recycled paper bags at the point of sale but must charge customers at least 10 cents for each one. Restaurants are exempted from the ban. Plastic bags found at grocery stores to hold produce and meat will still be allowed.

The council first considered adopting a plastic bag ban in 2008, but went back to the drawing board when the plastic industry threatened to sue if City Hall didn’t first conduct a complete environmental impact report on the proposed ban.

Abolishing mandatory bicycle registration was something advocated by cyclists who felt fining those who failed to register their bikes was harsh given that most didn’t even know the law existed.

The registration law was intended to discourage theft and help cyclists recover stolen bicycles, city officials said.

Around 300 and 400 cyclists per year registered their bikes, according to city staff. There’s no official count of cyclists in Santa Monica, but it’s clear that the number represents a small fraction of the total.

The council also voted to have more control over real estate projects with buildings higher than 32 feet, essentially putting the breaks on development that normally would have been administratively approved by city planners.

The council made the move because it is in the process of enacting the Land Use and Circulation Element, a planing document that will dictate traffic and development in Santa Monica for the next 20 years. Since current zoning standards are not compatible with the goals of LUCE, city planners wanted council to approve an interim ordinance that would force developers to enter into development agreements. In doing so, the council could have more power to force the developers to embrace the new LUCE standards and not build something that may be out of character with future projects.

Plans had already been submitted for 750,000 square feet worth of development, according to a City Hall report.

Several neighborhood activists and city boards and commissions pushed for the interim ordinance.

The council agreed to exempt affordable housing projects of up to 50 units.

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