Mobile Food Cart Inquiry in Emeryville Bogs Down in Details


Monday's meeting of Emeryville's street vendor task force was occupied with more head-scratching over the city ordinances than heated arguments concerning fair competition. The thirteen-member task force discussed distances between competitors mandated by city ordinance and as bounced around the idea of forming a restaurant and mobile food vendor association to regulate prime locations for vendors.

At the task force's introductory meeting two weeks ago, there were some heated exchanges between the brick and mortar restaurant owners and street vendors. The list of agenda topics that came at the conclusion of the first meeting included: limiting the number of mobile food vendors; raising their permit fees; limiting the geographic area in which they may operate; regulating vendors on private property; using the public right of way for cooking, seating and/or storage; and developing remedies for non-compliance with the ordinance.

Monday's meeting started with queries about the number of food trucks versus the area they're able to operate in. City councilwoman Nora Davis said there are about fifteen mobile food vendors in Emeryville. Subsequent debate seemed to stem from whether or not fifteen vendors was too many, given the tiny city's size. Emeryville's street-vendor ordinances require vendors to be 200 feet from one another, 200 feet from another restaurant, and 50 feet from an intersection. "We're talking about a square mile; we're talking about 30,000 people who work in the area. Is this a rational number [of vendors]," Davis asked the task force.

Jonas Bernstein of Rotten City Pizza, who represented both restaurant and food truck camps, raised the immediate question, "how much space is there for carts?" His question wasn't met with an answer by Davis or city planners since no one had ever calculated the exact amount of public curb space in relation to the number of brick and mortar restaurants. Gail Lillian, who owns the Liba Falafel truck, passed around maps showing curb space and distances from where vendors serve in relation to brick and mortars. Her maps provided a guide to an organized set of spots for vendors, which raised even more questions about the competition among food trucks for the right spaces.

Bernstein then recommended that mobile vendors form an association to regulate spaces and possibly lobby the city to changes in the ordinance requiring specific distances between vendors and restaurants. However, after a vote among the task force, it was decided by a near unanimous vote that the 200-foot requirement was fair. Jon Kosorek of the Jon's Street Eats truck was the only abstainer. Bernstein suggested that a possible association could mark the street to show exactly where vendors can operate in relation to restaurants and other mobile vendors.

Once it was clear no new information could be provided over how many mobile vendors could actually operate in Emeryville, Bernstein digressed. "We're here because there's a problem," he said. "We can't move on unless we know how many trucks there can be."

Bernstein then suggested an association that would include both mobile vendors and brick and mortar restaurants so there could be an administrative arm to change the current city ordinance. "I just want to get something done," he said.