cityhall3.jpgFood trucks play a critical role in the food culture in San Francisco, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who plans to introduce legislation today to relax restrictions on where they can operate.

At this afternoon’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Wiener also plans to introduce a resolution opposing state legislation that would essentially ban the trucks from most neighborhoods in the city by requiring that food trucks keep a minimum distance of 1,500 feet from all schools, both public and private.

According to Wiener, because of San Francisco’s density, Assembly Bill 1678 — authored by Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel–would ban food trucks in all but a handful of neighborhoods, including the Haight, the Castro and the Mission.

“This is a very non-urban approach … 1,500 feet–three blocks is a big deal, particularly when you’re talking about every school in the city,” Wiener said at a news conference this morning.

The local legislation Wiener will introduce today aims to relax an existing San Francisco ordinance that bars food trucks within 1,500 feet of public middle and high schools, with an exception for trucks operating in parks.

The ordinance was enacted to encourage students to participate in school lunch programs. However, although most of the city’s public high schools allow students to leave campus during lunch, middle schools do not–which Wiener said means there is no reason to ban the trucks near those schools.

“We overshot,” Wiener said of the city law.

His recommended revision would reduce the minimum distance to 500 feet, or about one city block.

“Regulating food trucks does not mean killing off food trucks,” he said. “It’s about balance.”

According to Wiener and Matt Cohen, the organizer of the Off the Grid network of food trucks who is credited with popularizing street food in the city, what is lost in over-regulating food trucks is diversity in offerings to consumers and in entrepreneurs.

Food trucks, Wiener said, are a “route to entrepreneurship for many people,” including immigrants.

Cohen began working with five trucks 18 months ago and now coordinates about 50 trucks, most of which he said are women- or minority-owned.

The one-size-fits-all state legislation would be a bad fit for San Francisco, Cohen said.

“It’s bad for cities, it’s bad for customers, and it’s bad for people who care about choice and diversity,” Cohen said.

He added that the legislation singles out food trucks for allegedly being a source of unhealthy food.

“It does nothing to stop the proximity of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants or liquor stores” to schools, he said.

Not all food trucks cater to indulgence, said Monica Wong, one of the founders of Little Green Cyclo, a Vietnamese street food truck that offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

“Fighting childhood obesity is a must and obviously should be a priority, but AB 1678 is not the way to go about it,” Wong said. “Food trucks are not the problem.”

Part of the solution, Wiener said, is to allow local governments rather than the state–to regulate food trucks, just as local governments regulate most land-use matters.

To achieve that, Wiener said the state bill should be withdrawn or amended to allow local governments to opt out of the requirements.

“We have to make decisions locally about what is best for our county,” and the state legislation takes that away, he said.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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