By Ian Lovett, 2/18/2010
If last year was the year of the mobile gourmet food truck, with outfits like Kogi BBQ tweeting their locations as they moved across the city, then this year might be the year of the stationary food truck. In January, an empty lot in Santa Monica was turned into a staging area for food trucks, until the city shut it down on the second day. Last weekend, downtown Los Angeles played host to the Los Angeles Street Food Festival, which drew 10,000 hungry Southlanders, eager to sample the goods from dozens of trucks.
Now, the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association (MFVA) wants to open a permanent food truck lot in the middle of one of the city’s busiest commercial areas — on West 3rd Street at the corner of La Jolla Avenue. The association plans to have the lot open within a couple of weeks.
Despite the trucks’ popularity, the idea has received a lot of opposition, not only from local restaurants, which accuse the trucks of undercutting their business, but also from elected officials. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, opposed the idea of a mobile food court on 3rd Street.
“A lot of businesses in stationary, permitted locations feel it’s unfair competition, and I tend to agree with them,” Koretz said. “There have been problems with these trucks popping up in front of businesses and people’s homes. They’re less of a nuisance in one lot, but I’m not thrilled with that either. I think they work well at construction sites where it’s difficult for workers to have access to other food, but I think that should be their only place in the city.”
Conflicts between food trucks and restaurants are nothing new in Los Angeles. In 2006, disputes between restaurants in East Los Angeles and traditional taco trucks prompted the Los Angeles City Council to impose a number of restrictions on trucks, limiting them to an hour in a single spot. Last year, however, the Los Angeles County Superior Court struck down the law. A similar law passed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that governed food trucks in unincorporated parts of the county was struck down in 2008.
The court’s ruling has left local government with few options for regulating the trucks. In the 5700 block of Wilshire, where food trucks have been congregating at lunchtime for the past nine months, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation cut the meters from two hour parking to one hour. Still, Bruce Gilman, LADOT public information officer, said LADOT enforces parking regulations for food trucks the same as for all other vehicles.
“We enforce time limits and curb parking for any vehicles,” Gilman said. “We do encounter these trucks sitting at meters sometimes, but we also find that with delivery trucks and private vehicles, and we have to treat them just like anyone else.”
Despite LADOT’s efforts to enforce meter violations, however, nine food trucks lined up on Wilshire Boulevard in Miracle Mile on Tuesday afternoon, and most of them sat there for two full hours at lunch. The Bool Korean BBQ truck had a ticket sitting on its windshield, but still continued to serve up Korean-fusion tacos.
“We’ve been coming here for three months now, and we get tickets every day,” said Monica Kim, who works in the Bool truck. “We can’t always move the car every hour. Sometimes we’re busy, or there aren’t any spots. The restaurants across the street will park here to try to stop us from parking.”
Ernesto Moreno, who works at 5700 Wilshire Boulevard in Miracle Mile, loves the new options the trucks offer.
“The prices are better, and the variety is better,” Moreno said. “There’s only a few restaurants in the area, and they used to have us in a little stranglehold. Even if they’re good, you get sick of eating there every day. Now we get new options every day, and you can get awesome, cheap, quick food in case you have to go back to work.”
Still, many local restaurants have complained that the trucks, which don’t have to pay rent, undercut their business. Moreno said one of them, Toshi, which closed last year, tried to mount a campaign against the trucks. “ However, with the exception of Black Dog Café, all of the nearby restaurants are corporate chains, and the managers refused to comment.
Matt Geller, vice president of the MFVA, said the issue of where the food trucks can sell stem from the fact that it is a new industry in many parts of the city. Since the MFVA formed at the end of 2009, 40 food trucks have joined the association, and Geller said more trucks contact him every day.
“In a new industry, there are going to be new issues that come up, and there’s going to be some confusion,” Gellar said. “Any new industry is going to run into barriers with old industries that don’t like the competition. I understand their argument that these trucks don’t pay rent and just pull up, and I think it’s a valid argument. We want to work with the merchants and see if there is some way we can help them. But if they’re just trying to burden us with regulations, that isn’t right. These trucks are also competing with each other, keeping prices low and quality high. The ultimate decision-maker is the consumer, that’s the way the economic system is set up.”
For Geller, the food truck lots offer a great opportunity for the city to regulate the trucks.
“I see it as a very malleable business industry,” Geller said. “The lots seems like a great fit for the city. The LAPD likes to have the trucks off the road, and it gives the city a little say in what goes on. They can put conditions on it, and tell the owners to close the lot by 9:00pm, for example.”
But Jeff Jacoberger, president of the Mid-City West Community Council, expressed doubt over whether 3rd Street would be a good location for a food truck lot.
“I confess I sometimes stop at a taco truck parked at Olympic and La Brea, so I’m not at all hostile to the idea of food trucks,” Jacoberger said. “But I’m concerned that because they’re aren’t paying rent, they’ll be able to undercut actual restaurants that are permanent fixtures in the community. The great thing about the one at Olympic and La Brea is that it’s this forlorn little stretch of street. It’s a great way to stimulate areas like that, but for 3rd Street, which already has so many places to eat and issues with parking, I’m afraid it will just make things even more difficult for restaurants that pay huge amounts for rent and valet parking and are already struggling in this economy.”
Kenny Allan, general manager of Toast Bakery on 3rd Street, didn’t worry about the food trucks squeezing out his business. But he did have concerns about the larger effect their presence on the street could have.
“We have a really high quality product, so I don’t know if we’ll be undercut by a truck,” Allan said. “But it does seem like it would cheapen the street. I have no problem with anyone doing business, but everyone has been working hard to make this neighborhood nicer, and I don’t think it’ll look good for the area.”
Tags | Lunch Trucks Wilshire