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Food trucks banned from Downtown, Old Town Auburn

Some council members changed their minds
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Food trucks are no longer welcome on private property in Old Town and Downtown Auburn, as the City Council voted 4-1 to ban them from the city’s historic districts at Monday’s meeting. The move represented a changing mindset for some of the Council after it emerged from the first public hearing Sept. 24 with a new version “Alternate A” that would have allowed mobile food vendors in Downtown but not Old Town. Councilman Bill Kirby said he’s turned “180” on the issue, and Mayor Kevin Hanley said he’s kind of “changed his mind,” saying that he doesn’t think the Council can ensure a fair playing field between brick-and-mortar restaurants and mobile food vendors. “My vision for Auburn is that we have buildings go up on vacant lands, and we don’t have food trucks on those vacant lands instead,” Hanley said. Councilman Mike Holmes agreed that a ban must encapsulate both historic district zones. Bridget Powers, the only council member to vote against the ordinance, wondered aloud what happened to the compromise that seemed to be developing. “I think that we need to find that compromise that makes it so our current business owners are protected, and they’re not paying more than the food truck owners are to run and operate a business,” she said. “But it’s not fair to say to a young person or an older person wanting to start a restaurant … ‘Go to the next town to open up that business.’” One such young person spoke up as one of nine members of the public who provided comment that was relatively balanced, with strong opinions from both sides and others making up the middle ground. Claire Dunlap, a 2007 Placer High School graduate, said she has returned to Auburn after going to culinary school and she has recently taken interest in the food truck business. “Because of the research I’ve done, it’s been really discouraging for me as a young person who wants to settle in Auburn and potentially have a business here,” Dunlap said. “Because the restaurateurs in Auburn want to support Auburn and local businesses, not chains, but really what they’re doing is stopping growth for people who don’t have the money to do brick-and-mortar or those other concepts like leasing a building.” George Miller, who operates Flying Pig BBQ on Lincoln Way in Auburn, said his research shows that the numbers just don’t add up for food trucks and restaurants to coexist in Auburn. “I am all for the food truck industry as a segment of our industry that is cool and upcoming where there is a population base to support it,” Miller said. “There isn’t here in Auburn. There just isn’t.” Maria’s Mexican Tacos is the lone food truck currently operating in one of the city’s historic districts, and it is unclear whether she will have to stop operating at her current location or if she will be allowed to run the course of her business license, said Will Wong, community development director. Wong said he will consult the city attorney on the matter. Maria’s had been frequenting Downtown Auburn and was allowed to operate for 30 minutes at a location on private property before relocating. The new ordinance, which becomes effective 30 days after its second reading, extends that time period to two hours, but trucks will be limited to other areas of town, such as the Highway 49 business corridor. Food trucks will be required to obtain a use permit for any private property on which it desires to do business. The processing fee is $481, but multiple locations can be lumped into one permit application. Also under the new food truck rules: Use tax must be properly reported to the city; mobile food vendors must operate on lots with at least a gravel surface; they must have signs directing customers not to use restrooms of nearby businesses unless they patronize that establishment; only one mobile food vendor is allowed per site; and they are allowed on construction sites. After the initial public hearing, the planning commission conducted a survey of other cities and how they regulate food trucks. Kirby pointed out that of the municipalities surveyed, other historic cities of similar size to Auburn, such as Nevada City and Placerville, do not allow food trucks. Councilman Keith Nesbitt said he did some research of his own on other jurisdictions. “Survey shows anywhere from 10 to 30 percent impact on adjacent businesses,” Nesbitt said. “If they take five meals worth eight dollars each from a restaurant and only do that five days a week, that’s 10,000 a year impact on adjacent businesses. I have to take that into consideration.” The Council decided to continue the hearing on rules for the public right of way until Jan. 14. They wanted to get more community input, specifically on whether food trucks should be able to operate on streets adjacent to Placer High School. Also at the meeting, the Council brought back the new signage ordinance that it approved at the last meeting and added a clause that allows temporary noncommercial signs to be displayed 60 days before an event and removed 10 days after. A 5-0 vote approved the motion by Holmes, and it will again go to a second hearing in November. That effectively postpones the date the new ordinance will take effect and will in turn extend Auburn’s temporary signage program by at least 30 days, Wong said. Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews