Visalia City Council to consider new hours, rules for food trucks in Industrial Park, East Downtown and East Main Street at its Aug. 6 meeting

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By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Food trucks have evolved from roach coaches to gourmet meals on wheels in the last decade, and while tastes, attitudes and perceptions about food trucks have changed, local laws are a little behind the curve.

The City of Visalia is hoping to change that next month when they consider a change to the zoning ordinance which would allow food trucks to park at one place longer in three areas of the city. Last month, the Visalia Planning Commission recommended the city council 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. 

While the city council and the planning commission seemed to agree on where food trucks were needed in the city, the city leaders did not agree on the rules governing how and when they operate within those areas. 

Planning commission chair Brett Taylor said he liked the idea of opening up new areas to food trucks but felt the changes were “a little restrictive.” Even within the districts, Taylor said food trucks would still be limited to paved lots next to an active business, one food truck per property and vending hours were limited to breakfast, lunch and dinner times with a 60- to 90-minute break in between. Breakfast times included 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch was between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., and dinner began at 3:30 p.m. 

Taylor said many food trucks operate on dirt or grass lots and many cities offer food truck courts, where several food trucks can sell food at one location next to a bar or at the industrial park. Taylor’s biggest criticism was over the hours of operation, saying food trucks should be open as late as the bars or at least past operating hours to provide employees getting off work or patrons heading home to get a bite to eat. Hours of operation after 3:30 p.m. 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.

“These are going to be in areas where there are bars, and I was thinking it was a good idea to have some food available when people are drinking at 10, 11 and 12 o’clock at night,” Taylor said. “People get hungry when they have a few drinks, and it’s probably better if they have some food on their stomach before they go home.”

Andy Chamberlain, principal planner for the city, said businesses at the industrial park never raised the issue of having more than one food truck per site and that allowing trucks to park on landscaped areas would result in the loss of landscape at a cost to the property owner. 

Paul Bernal, planning director of the city, said property owners who wanted to house a food truck court could develop a site for multiple food trucks under a separate conditional use permit process. He went on to say that food trucks could also apply jointly with a property owner for a special use permit to allow that activity on an ongoing basis. 

“This is a starting point,” Bernal said. “Over time, we’ll verify if this is working and any problems; or if it succeeds, do we extend it to other areas of the community?”

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.

The Visalia City Council will consider the new operating areas and hours for food trucks at its Aug. 6 meeting. 

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