Auburn City Council food truck hearing elicits emotional debate, no vote

Emotional public comment heard at meeting
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Before stating his case against food trucks in Auburn, Eric Nordby apologized if he appeared shaky – he said he hadn’t eaten much and was running on little sleep – but nonetheless a group of business owners asked him last minute to speak on their behalf at the City Council meeting Monday. Nordby pleaded to the Council to delay a vote on a new set of food truck rules, saying many of the owners were unaware of the meeting. He got his wish. “Postpone this vote for a month and let me fill your chamber with the other restaurateurs,” said Nordby, one of two who voiced full support for banning mobile food vendors from Old Town and Downtown Auburn. The Auburn City Council decided it needed more time to review a new set of proposed food truck rules after nearly a dozen people voiced their opinions, including a majority expressing support of Maria’s Mexican Tacos, a mobile vendor that frequents Downtown Auburn. “It’s not about one business and everyone loves Maria,” said Nordby, owner of Little Belgium Deli & Beer Bar, “but if you pass this I can guarantee I’m going to go out and buy a truck and put it up on Forest Hill (exit) right in her parking lot, so we can teach a little bit of ethics and honesty and responsibility to the rest of our community, because she wouldn’t like it if we were doing it to her.” But Nordby’s opinion was the unpopular one among public comment Monday. Bill Vaughn, a caterer who owns an Auburn barbecue company, said food trucks promote innovation and healthy competition. “You as a Council represent both the businesses and the people here in Auburn and the people you want to attract to Auburn,” Vaughn said. “Think about it. These folks are wanting all different variety of food. … If there’s competition, there’s going to be lower prices. Your consumers benefit from that.” The Council moved to continue the public hearing at its Oct. 22 meeting after council members Mike Holmes, Bridget Powers and Dr. Bill Kirby said they needed more information before reaching a decision. Keith Nesbitt was absent from the meeting. The Council directed staff to prepare an alternate version of the private property ordinance featuring several amendments, including limiting the ban to just Old Town. “While Lincoln Way is a narrow street with crowded sidewalks, High Street is not,” Mayor Kevin Hanley said of why he would support a blanket ban of Old Town for matters of public safety but not Downtown. Other amendments, raised by Hanley, that will be made for the alternate proposal will be: - A requirement that mobile food vendors pay a $400 business improvement district fee; - If the owner also operates a brick-and-mortar restaurant in another locale, they must sign a written agreement that they will agree to pay sales tax on food truck transactions to Placer County. That money goes into a pool for transactions that do not have a point of sale and it is distributed between the county’s jurisdictions; - One mobile food vendor is allowed per lot; - A sign must be placed on the side of the food truck discouraging patrons from using nearby restrooms unless they make a purchase from that establishment; - A number of what Hanley called “wildly exaggerated” public health findings will be removed. Powers also called for an amendment that would allow food trucks to operate on unpaved properties. Kirby expressed his displeasure that the local business associations did not have more input into the proposed ordinance and that their opinions will be solicited for the next review. The Council also wanted to hear more studies on how other cities with similar historic districts handle food truck regulations. The original new set of rules, recommended by the city’s planning commission on Sept. 4, would prohibit food trucks from operating in Old Town and Downtown Auburn. Under the current ordinance, mobile food vendors can park on private property for 30 minutes before they must relocate. The two members who voted in favor of it at that meeting cited safety concerns and narrow streets as the leading factors to implement the ban, as well as a desire to retain fairness to brick-and-mortar eateries in those areas. Bob Snyder, the lone planning commission member to vote against the rules on Sept. 4, said at Monday’s meeting that the Council should take the commission’s recommendation with a grain of salt. “It was close on a lot of things,” and only three of the five members voted on it, he added. “This is a great opportunity for Auburn to lead because there is a revolution, a renaissance going on with food trucks and you’re going to see more, not less,” Snyder said. “It’s innovative and creates variety, that’s good. Creates competition, that’s good.” The new ordinance also would require existing and future food trucks to apply with the planning commission for a use permit, which comes with a $481 processing fee. Charles Robb, a local engineer, said he disagreed that mobile vendors will take business away from their brick-and-mortar counterparts. “When I go to town and I see Maria’s, that’s not going to change my mind if I’m headed over to the Belgian deli or … any of those places,” Robb said. “I’m going to go where I want to go.”