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Public Health Dept. Seeks To Regulate Food Trucks

Jenny Chen |
September 21, 2010 | 7:40 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Yatta Truck outside USC near Jefferson/McClintock
Yatta Truck outside USC near Jefferson/McClintock
If you’re a food truck junkie, you better hope your quick food fixes are up to par to pass inspection. 

Los Angeles County public health officials have requested that the county Board of Supervisors vote on an ordinance that would force food trucks to undergo health and safety inspections similar to those conducted for restaurants. The Board of Supervisors will take up the issue on Tuesday.

The ordinance is endorsed by Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health. A letter to the Board of Supervisors dated September 14, 2010 recommended amendments to Los Angeles County Code 8, Title 8 (Consumer Protection and Business Regulations) including annual certification for food trucks, semi-annual routine inspections, and up-to-date route information.

Inspectors would give food trucks a letter grade A through C, should the ordinance pass. Any repeated grades below C will result in closure.

Truck owners will also need to specify their whereabouts and arrival and departure times. This will allow for mandatory unannounced inspections, according to Fielding.

A number of food truck owners said they find these regulations on health and safety to be reasonable. In fact, instead of feeling threatened, some welcome the supervision. 

Yatta Truck owner Hiro Igarashi said he thinks it best not to be afraid of the county health department, claiming that it’s a good chance for trucks to prove their business is legitimate.

“We clean every night, we have to keep the temperature correct – it takes lots of effort and energy,” the sushi truck owner said. 

Thomas Nguyen, owner of Vietnamese cuisine Tao Truck, also embraces regulation, saying, “It’s a good thing [because] it’ll raise public awareness. People think it’s not clean or safe to eat.”

Nguyen said he believes regulation will reinforce the notion of food trucks as “restaurants on wheels.” 

Customers are also welcoming the possibility of health inspections.  

“It’ll be a little bit better [with regulation]," said Ivan Cerezo, 20, who said he occasionally visits Mambo Juice, SliceTruck and other trucks near the University of Southern California. "They travel a lot – unlike restaurants, [which] are able to see the critters.” 

The health inspection proposal is just one of many potential regulations the county is hoping to impose on food trucks. 

Councilmen Paul Koretz and Tom LaBonge have been two of the most outspoken advocates of food truck regulation. LaBonge motioned in June to create truck parking zones and to regulate metered parking, with Koretz’s support.

Some of the support for the proposed regulations comes from a rivalry between restaurants and food truck owners. 

Nguyen said conflict comes from restaurant owners who worry that food trucks are taking away their business. He added, however, that he obeys a regulation that mandates 100 feet between food trucks and restaurants. 

“As a business owner, I respect the restaurants. I park away from them,” Nguyen said. 

Igarashi agrees, saying, “It’s all about the food.”

Igarashi said that restaurants have a mentality that the long lines at food trucks would be at their restaurants if trucks were absent, but that might not be the case. 

The growing rivalry is clear as Nicole Shahenian of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce spoke out last month, claiming that food trucks “literally roll in, take the business and our tax dollars and leave.” Shahenian argued that food trucks are taking business from traditional “brick-and-mortar” establishments. 

Other factors have also perpetuated the issue and the need for governmental regulation. 

The city proposed to create specific parking zones as a resolution to the issue of food trucks stopping in commercial areas, blocking parking meters designed for use in busy areas. 

Miracle Mile on Wilshire Boulevard is just one high-traffic business center lined with trucks that stay beyond the 1-hour meter parking. As the Department of Transportation has a policy to issue one parking ticket per violation per day, food trucks are often able to absorb their tickets into their daily profits. 

LaBonge is currently looking into solutions for alternative parking locations and setting definitions for meter parking, according to Stephanie Mar, his communications deputy. 

Koretz was quoted earlier this year with concerns that food trucks were also causing problems in front of businesses and residential areas.

Paul Michael Neuman, communications director for Councilman Koretz, says there has been a lot of productive discussion on regulating food trucks in residential areas to settle concerns over noise and trash. 

Much of the regulation legislation is still in its infancy, but Mar hopes to dispel rumors that the government is out to get food truck owners.

“It’s necessary for the city to protect established businesses and allow for new ones,” Mar said. “It’s not a crackdown, just an investigation into alternatives to make everyone happy.” 

The investigation comes at a time of food trucks’ increasing popularity. There are now nearly 10,000 vendors within the county. 

Nearly 6,000 of those are full-service trucks offering anything from Mexican to Korean BBQ, while 3,500 are smaller carts offering ice cream, juice, etc. All types will be subjected to the letter grade inspection, if that ordinance passes Tuesday.


Reach reporter Jenny Chen here.

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