San Bernardino County Embracing, Indeed Facilitating Food Truck Culture

(October 21)  One illustration of the contrast between metropolitan Los Angeles/surrounding Los Angeles County and its little brother to the east, San Bernardino/surrounding San Bernardino County, played out this week at the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors meeting when the board took up the issue of food truck regulation.
Food trucks, it seems, are a quintessentially Southern California phenomenon. While lunch trucks have existed for over a half century, the concept was reinvented and enlarged upon in a major way just a decade ago, when the idea of vending cuisine from a truck took hold.
A pioneer in this movement was Roy Choi, who immigrated to America from Korea with his parents at the age of two in 1972. After graduating from California State University at Fullerton with a degree in philosophy and attending Western State University School of Law for a semester, Choi abandoned all that book learning for something immediately practical: the art of food preparation.  He started with watching chef Emeril Lagasse’s television show and then took a culinary class at a local night school. In 1996, Choi transferred to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and then served as an intern chef at Le Bernardin in New York City. A relatively few years later Choi had become the chef de cuisine at the Beverly Hilton. He would later hold similar posts with the Embassy Suites in Lake Tahoe and the Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen in Los Angeles. Growing bored with  four and five star cooking that catered to the upper crust, Choi made a radical transition, preparing his particular brand of food, one that a style fuses Mexican and Korean flavors and dishes, and selling it from a food truck which he typically parked on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. In  2008 he took his show onto the road and began parking the truck outside nightclubs on Sunset Boulevard late at night, selling Mexican tacos stuffed with Korean-style meat. His approach was so successful it spawned literally hundreds and then thousands of imitators. The city and county of Los Angeles rushed to accommodate the new business phenomenon, and by 2010 there were 4,000 licensed catering trucks operating in Los Angeles County, including 200 “specialty” trucks which featured high end  five star cuisine surpassing the typical fare in most restaurants and rivaling that available in the finest restaurants in the city. This created controversy, as the established “brick and mortar” restaurants saw first their profitability and eventually their survival as being threatened.  The restaurant establishment and the politicians who were answerable to them began to pound back and soon a round of efforts to intensify the regulations on food trucks were served up. Many of those, as would be logically anticipated, were aimed at the health related issues pertaining to the trucks, sanitation, refrigeration, etc. In 2012, the Los Angeles City Council upped the effort to bring them to heel by using both land use and traffic considerations as operations restrictions. In one instance, the  trucks, characterized as “over-sized” were restricted  from parking on Wilshire Boulevard near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of the most popular venues for the trucks, ostensibly as a means of increasing visibility for drivers in the area. The ordinance banned food trucks from parking along Wilshire, between Fairfax and La Brea between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
In Los Angeles, city officials see further restrictions and regulations on food trucks as a blow for the public good.
Some 59.7 miles to the east, in San Bernardino, the flow is away from regulation. A case in point is this week the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors took a second look at the ordinance it passed in 2012 regulating food trucks.
According to Tom Hudson, the director of San Bernardino County’s Land Use Services Department,  “Currently, Chapter 85.19 Food Truck Event Permits allows food trucks to operate only at designated, organized events at pre-approved fixed locations, subject to the operator obtaining an approved Food Truck Event Permits.  The code definition of a food truck event in Chapter 810.01 includes any food truck service, regardless of the number of attendees or location of the event. Currently no provisions exist in the code for small, incidental food truck uses. Employers, contractors and persons hosting private parties with a small number of attendees have expressed a concern that the food truck event permits process is too restrictive and costly. The proposed amendment to the code re-defines the minor food truck event and adds exemptions to the food truck event permits in order to address these concerns.”
Hudson continued, “This amendment to the code proposes to modify the definitions of major and minor food truck events to specify that only food truck events which are open to the public require permits. Private parties and other uses that are not open to the public are excluded from food truck event permitting. In addition, staff is recommending a minimum threshold of 100 attendees to require a permit. Therefore, an amendment is proposed to define the minor food truck event as an event for 100 to 499 persons. The major food truck event is defined as an event for 500 or more
persons. Public events for fewer than 100 persons would be comparable to a private event and, therefore, would not require a permit. This modification of permitting requirements applies only to the food truck event permits issued by the county land use services department. All existing requirements of the San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services Department with respect to inspection and permitting of food trucks relative to public health requirements remain in effect and are not affected by the proposed ordinance.”
The policy change applies to the county’s unincorporated areas. The trucks are subject to any applicable municipal regulations in cities that have put them in place. Many San Bernardino County cities have yet to regulate them.
The board directed staff to go even further in the liberalization of the regulations by looking into the consolidation of the food truck inspection process so that if a truck is given certification by the health departments in either Riverside or Los Angeles counties it will be deemed licensed in San Bernardino County.

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