Downtown Food Truck Ban Nears Reality

David Fransen/|

The City of Turlock made its first legislative move toward a permanent ban on siting food trucks in Downtown Turlock Thursday night – but only barely.

A split, 4-3 majority of the Turlock Planning Commission voted in favor of an ordinance amendment that would forever ban new food trucks from doing business in Downtown Turlock. Two food trucks currently permitted in Downtown Turlock – Vida Vital, a smoothie and wrap truck, and Saucy Girls, specializing in sliders and hot dogs – would be forced to move by Jan. 1, 2015.

The ban still awaits a final decision by the Turlock City Council. The council will consider the matter at a currently undecided future date.

The Planning Commission’s decision, which is nonbinding, came as part of a much larger motion taken Thursday night, which looks to overhaul the entire Turlock zoning ordinance. That ordinance amendment addresses issues ranging from cargo containers to accessory structures and electrified fences.

Most elements of the proposal are relatively uncontroversial, and were broadly endorsed by the Planning Commission. But the decision to ban food trucks from Turlock’s downtown was divisive.

Commission Chair Soraya Fregosi and Commissioners Jeanine Bean and Victor Pedroza were supportive of food trucks remaining in Downtown Turlock. Commissioners Elvis Dias and Nick Hackler joined with Commission Alternates Alice Pollard and Ashour Badal to oppose Downtown Turlock food trucks, creating a 4-3 majority in favor of the ban.

Commissioners Mike Brem and Jeff Hillberg did not attend Thursday’s meeting, leading to Pollard and Badal’s participation in the vote.

Debate on the measure, which has been under discussion in some form since late 2013, was limited. No members of the audience spoke directly on the issue, and only a handful of citizens have spoken at past hearings — predominantly, those who either own a food truck or are involved with the Downtown Property Owners Association, which opposes the food trucks.

The DTPOA argues that the food trucks are inappropriate for Downtown Turlock on several counts. Not only do the trucks not fit with the aesthetic and character of historic Downtown Turlock, detractors say, they also harm existing downtown restaurants.

Mobile food vendors face fewer start-up costs, allowing them to sell cheaper food while taking advantage of the benefits of operating in Downtown Turlock. And the DTPOA doesn’t earn money from food trucks; brick-and-mortar businesses pay 42 cents per square foot to fund downtown programs, but as food trucks have no building they pay no such fee.

Supporters say that food trucks create jobs, inspire entrepreneurs, and contribute to the vibrant, diverse range of businesses that draws people to Downtown Turlock. They also note that the lots where food trucks operate would otherwise sit empty, adding nothing to Downtown Turlock’s atmosphere.

Though the DTPOA’s past arguments have focused, at times, on issues of fair competition, Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore noted that those concerns could not play into the Planning Commission's vote.

“We are prevented, as a city, from making our decision based on matters of competition,” Whitmore said.

Instead, Whitmore advised that Planning Commissioners consider whether they believed food trucks were compatible with the vision of downtown, its atmosphere, culture, aesthetics, and values.

That helped with making a decision, Dias said, as he voted in favor of the ban.

But Fregosi said she took issue with the actual size of downtown, as defined in the ban. The provision’s language would, essentially, ban food trucks from in a triangle of land roughly bordered by Canal Drive, Minaret Avenue, and Thor Street, as well as along East Main Street and parts of South Broadway.

“That's a little bit too restrictive to me,” Fregosi said, noting she would have supported a measure that banned the trucks only from Main Street.

After the decision was made, commissioners noted their surprise at the lack of public involvement in the issue. Though the issue has been broadly discussed on social media websites, citizens have not turned out to participate in the many public hearings.

“We asked for a lot of participation, and we got none,” Pollard said. “That also helps with our decision.”

“It does not appear there are a lot of strong feelings about this item,” Fregosi agreed.

Comments 9

  1. Bummer says:

    Such a bummer that it’s getting harder and harder to do what America was all about in the begging; Making a living for yourself. I never had the desire to open a food truck and I honestly haven’t even been to one, but it actually makes me happy to see them. I see people living their dreams through them. People actually working! They usually aren’t permanent anyways, a lot of aspiring chefs start these trucks so they can save up money and open a restaurant. And even if they don’t they are a step towards what every city is doing. It is NOT harming downtown “aesthetics” or businesses. I have been to two of the downtown restaurants, but like I said, I’ve never had food truck before. If people want the food from the restaurant they’ll go to them regardless of a truck that happens to be on the way or not. And if they want the food from the truck, they’ll go there regardless of what’s downtown or not.

  2. Just know this says:

    If you are outraged by this kind of thing, basically the City of Turlock preventing honest people from making a living at the request of their friends, The Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association, you should be boycotting businesses within that association. They are responsible for getting this ban implemented. I personally will never eat at Dust Bowl again, nor will I spend money at any other down town assoc business. Dust Bowl is definitely the main culprit though.

  3. Melissa says:

    I think we need to build a food truck park. (Perhaps in the park by Cotta’s kitchen where the homeless have taken over). Have hook ups, benches for eating, and paved spots for the trucks to park. Charge them rent and make them apply for a spot. There are places like this in other towns and cities and they are great!!

  4. So tired of this..... says:

    The Owner of The Dust Bowl was only able to open because of his wifey’s daddy aka Hilmar Cheese money. Now, this same owner, who is involved with the Downtown Association Elite, is going to prevent other business/competition from moving in? BAH! Either I live in a city where we like to vote in crooks or we seriously need to clean house in the next election. Bublak anyone? Okay enough of this tangent. On another note, I would like to say that I am a new reader to Turlock City News and appreciate the stories, they are pertinent and to the point. What would it take to do some investigative journalism into who is behind this ban…..who is DPOA? What businesses participate? Inquiring minds what to know. Thanks TCN

  5. Just know this says:

    The food trucks that are currently downtown already have agreements with the lots they currently park in. There is no need to build a food truck park. There are empty lots all over town already in existence. We need to just expose the local corrupt government of this pathetic town and their glad handing buddies TDPOA for the shameful treatment of small business owners. This is a NON ISSUE. Businesses like Dust Bowl that are butt hurt by competition use the corrupt govt to CREATE this issue. WE should not have to solve some non problem created by them. Without their meddling, everyone would just be enjoying the food trucks and going along on their merry way.

  6. Guest says:

    Lol, the Dust Bowl is worried?! They should be! I went there once because of the “hype” well that’s all it is…”hype”! I’d gladly eat at any food truck before going there ever again. The trucks should just move to the newer side of town, I know personally I have no reason to go into “historic”, what a joke!

    Why don’t they just kick everyone out of town, then they can cry about not having any business. Don’t they realize people hanging out and eating in the area will drive up business at places most probably wouldn’t normally see. Oh well, whatever!!

  7. greenacres says:

    I am so encouraged by the other comments left here by te other guests. It is heartening to see how much interest there in more and alternative kinds of businesss here in Turlock despite the efforts of the Downtown Association, the wealthy business owners and the City Council. This town desperately needs better, more progressive leadership, more business and new ways of bringing not only Turlock residents but citizens from our neighboring towns into our downtown area. This is a huge and epic fail on the part of the Downtown Association, yet not surprising. They talked about how there was a forum to dcuss this issue but I think most of us who are posting here were shocked that there was even a public opportunity to do so. It seems that there was very little publicity and marketing to alert folks to come and speak out on behalf of food trucks. So many cities and town across California seems to be able to work cooperatively and make this work. Once again Turlock prevails in squashing business and doing what it does best- leaving things in the previous century and hanging on to the most provincial and outdated ways possible. One final thought: with the new mega retail pad over by Kohls coming quickly- open in time for the holidays-what is the Downtown Association and the City doing to build up business on Main Street between now and then?! I mean, besides discouraging innovative concepts, planning the same old boring events and generally keeping the “status quo”?

  8. Berry McCaulkiner says:

    Not much to do downtown. I go to the antweek stores once and awile but thats about it. Just look and laugh at the over priced flea market. Dust Bowl once, Wont do that again, I cant think of anything down there really. bistro I need a loan to eat that crap. 11 bucks for a burger the size of a half dollar. well thats how much it cost 6 years ago im sure its less now. less meat more money. main street yum! latifs once and awile. turlock down town ass. is just that. What a joke that is. The had a out of town architect for 200k and had a bay area contractor do all the work downtown. try turlock first. lets get rid of the people in the downtown ass. Sharon, is the main one that comes to mind. not even still if shes still there like i said i stay away from there. Good day

  9. bill coakley says:

    Two sides to every story.
    Having been a business owner of a small restaurant in 2006-2008 and paying rent of $4.300 monthly along with real employee wages and workers compensation, taxes etc. It is easy to see the frustration of local business owners trying to compete with under the table wages, and low rents with no workers comp. and most likley less than half their earnings reported if that!
    On the other hand, I love the taco trucks and visit them frequently and appreciate the low prices!!
    Lastly the City is protecting the local heavily taxed bushiness that are creating a job market and income for the City and it citizens. How many cities outside of Stanislaus County allow taco trucks to compete with heavily taxed and expensive rent restaurants? Very, very few that I am aware of through my travels in Ca.
    The City is only looking to keep the trucks out of the downtown area which is my opinion is fair and makes for good business, allowing us to enjoy our choice where most City’s do not.
    In closing placing blame and bashing the Dust Bowl is a weak and defenseless argument made by those with no idea of how the food industry is run!

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