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City Council approves new food truck districts after Visalia Mall says they are bringing more business inside

City Council approves new food truck districts after Visalia Mall says they are bringing more business inside

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Food trucks in Visalia will now be able to operate in parking lots of specific areas of the city to protect brick and mortar restaurants from unfair competition. But there is a possibility that food trucks may actually augment business for local restaurants. 

Before voting in three new food truck districts at its Aug. 6 meeting, the Visalia City Council was surprised to find out that food trucks in Visalia had done more to help than hurt restaurants. 

During the public comment portion of the item, Rick Feder, manager of the Visalia Mall, shared that a food truck event was being held every Friday night in the mall parking directly in front of Red Robin. Feder said on the very first Friday of the event, Red Robin’s overall sales were up 12% because people who were eating a variety of food in the parking lot, were still coming inside to get out of the heat and grab a beer.

“Food trucks are new and what’s happening,” Feder said. “[Red Robin] loved it because it attracts more people and we don’t allow a beer garden outside.”

Councilmember Phil Cox originally said he did not support the ordinance unless it increased the distance that food trucks could locate to a restaurant from 150 feet to 300 feet at the Council’s February work session. After hearing Feder’s comments, Cox said he was re-evaluating the way he thought about food trucks.

“I’m gonna eat a little bit of crow here and say that we probably should open this up to the entire city,” Cox said. “I would come back and add this to every commercial property in Visalia.”

Visalia Chamber of Commerce CEO Gail Zurek agreed with Cox that the city should come back and “broaden its approach” to where food trucks can locate. She said she appreciated the efforts by the council and the Food Truck Task Force of which Feder was a part. 

“This is a cottage industry I see as a micro-enterprise that will grow into an industry,” Zurek said. “There is certainly a market when it comes to food trucks.”

The City Council unanimously amended zoning ordinance to form three special districts within the city that allow food trucks to operate nearly all day in one spot as long as they have access to permanent bathrooms and are more than 300 feet from restaurants, travel lodging or residential homes and at least 1,000 feet from schools unless they are part of a school function.

The Industrial Park Overlay District encompasses the industrial park east of the community of Goshen along Goshen Avenue and Plaza Drive. The city’s Industrial Park continues to grow and employs thousands of workers between the tenants without any restaurants within walking distance. The East Downtown Overlay District stretches east-west from Santa Fe Street to Ben Maddox Way and north-south from Mineral King Avenue to Center Avenue. Food trucks have long pushed to be allowed to operate in the downtown area, especially for hours not serviced by traditional restaurants or for those who only have a few minutes for lunch. The East Main Street Overlay District picks up at Ben Maddox and extends east to Valley Oaks Drive and from Mineral King to Main Street. Many of these employers are commercial retail or light industrial businesses whose workers do not have restaurants nearby or at the time that they begin or end their shift work.

Andy Chamberlain, principal planner for the city, clarified that food trucks still can’t park on city streets and must be located on paved lots next to an active business with access to restrooms, even in the new overlay districts. 

Hours of operation allowed within the districts included breakfast from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., and dinner which began at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 7 p.m. in the East Main district, 10 p.m. in the East Downtown district, and 2 a.m. in the Industrial district.

Food trucks operating on the property of an existing business, such as those alternating nights on the back patio of Barrelhouse, are not subject to the rules in zoning changes. The new rules would only apply to the overlay districts. Any food truck operating outside of the districts would still be required to move every 10 minutes unless they had a special event permit to stay in one place longer or a temporary conditional use permit allowing them to operate on a paved lot of a commercial/retail business for up to six months.

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