Saturday Shorts: Modesto ponders regulating its food trucks

August 9, 2013 

— Modesto has a number of taco trucks and a cupcake truck, but has not experienced an explosion of mobile food vendors like the variety seen in Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento and other big cities.

Nonetheless, we think and hope they'll be coming.

We agree with City Manager Greg Nyhoff that now is the time for the city to discuss whether and how it wants to regulate these mobile businesses — before there is a problem.

Some might argue they shouldn't be regulated at all, beyond meeting the food preparation safety requirements that are monitored by the county Department of Environmental Resources. But mobile food vendors can be unfair competitors to brick-and-mortar restaurants, especially if they pull their truck right in front of a restaurant and even use that restaurant's tables. Some downtown businesses say that's what happened a couple of years ago. That vendor is no longer around.

Currently the city allows stationary food vendors — trucks that stay in the same place — to operate on private property in areas with industrial zones. The question now is whether to have such limits on how close together mobile vendors might be in other places, such as downtown.

A staff report that went to the City Council's Economic Development Committee this week said state courts say that cities cannot just ban food trucks from selling along their streets. But they can have some reasonable regulations regarding time and place. Modesto is looking at Elk Grove's ordinance as a model.

The city manager and most of the current City Council are pro-business. They want to encourage entrepreneurs, including those starting or expanding mobile businesses. But as was evident from the discussion at Monday's committee meeting, they also have to recognize the needs of existing businesses.

It should be an interesting discussion. The proposal is in its early phase, so there isn't yet a draft ordinance. Those who want to weigh in early should call city Senior Planner Paul Liu at(209) 577-5282 or email plieu@modestogov.com.

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Maj. Kyle Trimmer, the new head of The Salvation Army Modesto corps, has only been in town a few weeks but he's come to a couple of the same conclusions as another newcomer, Police Chief Galen Carroll. One of those conclusions is that the homeless and other people in need cannot, or should not, go hungry in Modesto because there are so many organizations serving free meals.

Another conclusion: that people who give money to panhandlers are not solving a problem and are only encouraging panhandling. "If you want to stop the panhandling, don't give (to them)," Trimmer advised as he met this week with our editorial board.

Trimmer said he and his wife, Maj. Martha Trimmer, are already enjoying Modesto. We are pleased to learn they are meeting with leaders of other social service agencies to learn what's available, how organizations can collaborate and what are the unmet needs.

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Riverbank school trustee John Mitchell changed his vote to a "yes," which provided the majority needed for the school district to hire Kirk Peterson as an assistant football coach. According to the Riverbank News, a number of speakers encouraged the action at Tuesday's meeting. As we wrote in this space Tuesday, this should have been a routine personnel item but was hung up because Mitchell and fellow trustee Steve Walker were angry at Kirk's father, Ron Peterson, also a school board member, for voting to reduce board members' medical benefits. We doubt that the tension on the board will evaporate, but at least this matter was resolved appropriately.

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While the most recent test scores were disappointing, we want to send a high-five to the teachers, staff, students and parents at Robertson Road Elementary School in west Modesto, whose scores were up significantly. Robertson Road's scores were so dismal that it qualified for a $3.9 million grant that is provided extra help. One piece of that is that the students are in class an hour more each day. Maybe the longer school day is a big factor in the improvement.

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We like to track local success stories and here's another one: Andreas Kolling, the first student to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Merced, has gotten a faculty position at the University of Sheffield in Great Britain. He will be working on a research program in robotics and teaching graduate and undergraduate students. Kolling will help spread the word about our UC campus and be another role model for valley youngsters. After all, building robots is something that most kids would consider very cool, something worth staying in school to pursue.

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