Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 1:33 pm | Mostly Cloudy 68º


Local News

Santa Barbara City Council Sets Rules for Food Trucks, Neighborhood Markets

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a New Zoning Ordinance — one that only allows new neighborhood markets in multifamily residential zones, and that sets strict limits on mobile food trucks on private property.

The vote came after more than three years of formal discussion.

The new zoning ordinance consists of dozens of changes, both big and small, but ultimately is designed to ease conflicts among property owners, businesses and developers by eliminating inconsistencies in language.

“This is the ‘57 Chevy, one of the finest-designed vehicles of its time, whose time is no longer here,’ said Councilman Harwood “Bendy” White, about the old zoning ordinance, parts of which date back to the 1920s.

“The city of Santa Barbara has been around a long time,” said senior planner Danny Kato. “There’s a vast number of properties we consider non-conforming.”

While most of the zoning changes were low-ticket items, the council’s focus was on its efforts to regulate mobile food vendors and neighborhood markets.

Food trucks and other mobile food vendors are not currently allowed on private property, even though some property owners allow them to set up shop in their parking lots.

Kato and Mayor Helene Schneider blamed the media for “misinformation” surrounding the widely reported crackdown of mobile food vendors.

“All the mobile food vendors you've seen in parking lots or gas stations are operating outside the realm of legalness,” Kato said. “We want to allow them, allow them, but subject to some regulation. Right now they are not allowed at all. It’s kind of the Wild West. Let’s open the door, but let’s not just fling it all the way open.”

Longtime mobile food vendor The Burger Bus fled town June 24 because of the pending regulations on food trucks in the city. The new rules state that they are only allowed for four hours per day and up to 90 days per year, although the city on Tuesday said it would explore ways to allow the trucks to add more days.

Kato said initially the proposal was for “three hours” per day because he thought that was enough time for them to run their business.

“That was the minimum time (we thought) they needed to get their “fryers going or whatever,” Kato said.

Schneider said she was disappointed that no food truck vendors were in the room for the meeting after they called her out on Twitter and she invited them to her office and the meeting, but they no-showed.

“There was so much bad information out there that clouded the issue,” Schneider said.

The mobile food vendors also cannot be within 500 feet from each other. Kato also said repeatedly that the ordinance would only apply to private property, and not public property; the city attorney was working on separate regulations. Some of the food trucks, Kato said, have spilled over to residential neighborhoods. He said residents have complained that the trucks were “noisy” and “smelly.”

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said he was concerned about food trucks hurting other restaurants.

“To some degree these trucks, which could proliferate, threaten our existing restaurants and I would like to protect them as much as possible,” said Hotchkiss, who is running for Santa Barbara Mayor in 2017.

The city also decided to block neighborhood markets from R1 residential zones, but allow them in multifamily neighborhoods. The city has about 11 neighborhood markets, that some see as promoting walkability because residents don’t have to get into their cars to grab food.

“It’s really nice on a hot night to go for a walk and get some ice cream,” said Councilwoman Cathy Murillo, who is running for mayor. .

She also took exception to a comment made by Fred Sweeney, president of the Upper East Neighborhood Association, who said during the meeting that he appreciated the value of the existing neighborhood markets, but that new ones might pose some problems.

“Can you imagine a 7-Eleven at the corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street,” Sweeney asked the council.

Murillo, when it was her time to talk, responded with this: “Really Mr. Sweeney, you think someone is going to put a 7-Eleven there?” Murillo said. “There’s rules.”

Although Councilman Jason Dominguez voted for the new zoning ordinance, he was the sole supporter of neighborhood markets in single-family residential neighborhoods.

“The climate for retail is tough enough as evidenced by some of the vacancies,” Dominguez said. “Amazon’s shipping things to people’s doors every day.”

The new ordinance is set to go into effect Oct. 1.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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