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Council seeks Placer High’s opinion on food trucks

Public right of way ordinance to be discussed in January
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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One food trucks ordinance down and one to go, the Auburn City Council requested more education before it delves into their use in public right of way. Specifically, they want educators’ input. After approving a new private property ordinance Monday that bans food trucks from the city’s historic district, the Council felt it did not have enough information to go forward with a proposed set of rules for mobile food vendors on public right of way. As the ordinance was written, food trucks could legally park on streets adjacent to Placer High School. Now it’s up to city officials to determine whether that would pose a legitimate safety threat if they wish to extend the proposed ban from Downtown and Old Town to include the high school’s surroundings. The City Council is scheduled to next consider the public right of way ordinance with a public hearing on Jan. 14. Placer High School Principal Peter Efstathiu said he had not yet been contacted by the City for his input, adding that he would like to sit out this food fight and leave it to Auburn officials and business owners. Efstathiu does have concerns about safety, though. Placer High has an open campus for lunchtime, but he’s against allowing food trucks to park near the school. “I think it’s a loitering aspect,” he said. “The kids walk across the street and leave campus to get lunch, but they’re continually walking. But if I’m out front and the kids are standing out there waiting for the food truck, then we would have to police it.” Nicholas Reed, a Placer High senior, said he would like the added variety in lunch options and that he did not see students’ safety as an issue. “Not any more than just regular traffic, because you’re not going to get hit or anything unless you’re being stupid,” Reed said. “It should be fine.” The City has less legal basis to regulate on public right of way than they did when it ruled to prohibit food trucks from private property in Downtown and Old Town Auburn, said Michael Colantuono, city attorney. “If the Council believes that pedestrian and other traffic safety issues adjacent to the high school require a rule there, then we could impose a rule there,” Colantuono said. That’s why they’ll be playing by different rules this time. Restricting business on private property can be done for more reasons than just safety, Colantuono said, citing a recent California Supreme Court decision involving a dispute between large and small furniture retailers that ruled a city can zone to benefit some businesses rather than others – as long as there’s a rationale. Much of the Council’s private property discussion centered around food trucks’ detrimental affect on brick-and-mortar restaurants. For example, Mayor Kevin Hanley said his decision to vote in favor of the ban relied on a vision for Auburn that had buildings, not trucks, opening up businesses on vacant lots. He said mobile vendors taking sales from restaurants could create a blight situation. The City has authority to tighten, but not loosen, regulations already in place on a state and county level, Colantuono said. One such state law would require food trucks to be parked within 250 feet of restrooms and hand-washing facilities available to their patrons, he said. Whether or not that would be applicable and enforceable at the high school is one of the questions city staff raised at Monday’s Council meeting. Lila McAllister, nutrition director for Placer High, said she had been approached by a food truck owner in the past about parking on campus, a request she denied. “It’s a real touchy subject,” McAllister said. “It’s like they do have a right to have a business over there, I believe that truly, but I think you really have to look at where they’re going, and by a school I don’t think that’s the best thing.” Private property rules for mobile food vendors will take effect Dec. 19 – 30 days after the second hearing on the ordinance, said Will Wong, community development director. Maria’s Mexican Tacos, the lone food truck operating Downtown, served customers from the Auburn Journal’s parking lot on Thursday, but owner Maria Moreno will be limited to operating outside of the city’s historic districts when the rules take hold. Moreno has not returned several requests for comment. In a September interview with the Journal, she had said she would not operate near the high school out of respect for Taco Tree. “A lot of people have been asking me why I don’t go park near the high school – because I don’t want to bother Taco Tree,” Moreno said. “I don’t want them to think only because I have a truck I can go everywhere I go. No, I want to make sure I do everything legal, because I don’t want to be in trouble, and I don’t want to make the people mad.” Wong said Moreno’s business license did not allow her to operate in the public right of way. Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews