Turlock City Council unanimously approved the long controversial ban of mobile food vendors in certain areas of Downtown Turlock on Tuesday evening.
Now, under the ban, mobile food vendors, or food trucks, that operate on private property for more than 30 minutes at a time are now prohibited from operating in three Downtown Overlay Districts — the Downtown Core, Downtown Core Transition, and Office-Residential districts.
The ban, however, does not affect the food truck center on East Avenue, nor does it prohibit street vendors who travel through Downtown Turlock or park on private property for less than 30 minutes, such as the Cupcake Lady.
As has been since early talks of the ban, Turlock residents were very much divided on whether to support the ban or not.
“I think when you talk about a historic or traditional downtown, it’s very different than it was 30 or 40 years ago. We have definitely widened sidewalks, we have fences, we have outside eating, we have, I think, a little bit of texture in our downtown. And what I think other cities are finding is that downtowns are becoming to be darlings of the communities again and certainly food is a big emphasis,” said Jeani Ferrari, who worked on the revitalization of Downtown Turlock around 15 years ago. “I think part of that whole food thing is this very popular food truck element that has been brought in to so many downtowns very successfully. It brings in a wonderful element of ethnic and special food.”
Since the City of Turlock began discussing the possibility of banning food trucks Downtown, supporters have argued that mobile food vendors have distinct advantages over brick-and-mortar businesses, including stringent — and costly — building codes and laws.
Ed Samo, co-owner of Red Brick Bar & Grill, argued that brick-and-mortar business not only face a disadvantage in building codes, but also in how many employees they employ. Samo also argued that brick-and-mortar restaurants in Downtown Turlock have brought people to the once “ghost town” area.
“Now that all the brick-and-mortars have laid all the groundwork and brought all of these people to what was years ago a dead downtown, now, all of a sudden, there’s a huge interest from the food trucks to come in,” said Samo.
Despite Samo’s thoughts, other Downtown business owners felt that food trucks played an important part in bringing people Downtown, as well as helping the overall image. Hillary Smith, co-owner of Downtown’s La Mo Café, wrote a letter, which was read Tuesday evening by Ferrari, arguing the importance of food trucks Downtown.
“We need more reasons for people to visit Downtown Turlock and food trucks should be one of them,” Ferrari read from Smith’s letter.
While Council was unanimous in their support of the ban, Councilmember Steven Nascimento said he initially struggled with his vote.
“When we first started talking about this, it gave me a lot of heartburn,” said Nascimento. "I love food trucks. I think they add a lot of diversity to our food scene and they can add a lot of value to our Downtown areas if done correctly and so I really did struggle with it early on."
Ultimately Nascimento decided to support the ban because food trucks were not completely banned from Downtown and, in some areas, could be as close as a block from Main Street.
Additionally, the approved food truck ban would not prohibit food trucks from Downtown during special events, such as the Turlock Certified Farmers Market or the Main Street Food Rally coming to Downtown this summer.
The ban also does not prohibit food vendors from applying for a conditional use permit for a private parcel to have food trucks, similar to the area of the taco trucks on East Avenue, even within the banned areas of Downtown Turlock. The permit would require approval by the Planning Commission, however.
Currently, there is no immediate impact to mobile food facilities in Turlock, as it does not affect the East Avenue taco truck area, nor are there any mobile food facilities currently operating in Downtown.
“Just to clarify, the rest of the City is still available for mobile food facilities as well,” said Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore.