Main Street in Santa Monica is about to become less happening for after-hours food cravings on weekends.
Night owls coming out of bars and clubs along the popular thoroughfare who are hoping to satisfy their hunger before heading home with a plate from one of the popular gourmet food trucks will soon have to look elsewhere.
The Santa Monica City Council voted 5-1 Nov. 8 to ban vending from vehicles on Main Street between Ocean Park Boulevard and Marine Street from 1 to 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in response to public safety concerns associated with the food truck operations.
“We’re only suggesting a limitation for a couple of hours on two nights a week; during any other hours the food trucks can be right where they are now,” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told the council in presenting the proposal.
“What we picked was a limited part of Main Street where there are dangerous conditions now.”
In recent months, the increase in popularity of food trucks has led to a variety of safety concerns on Main Street, where the truck vendors are parking in the early morning hours to take advantage of the customers leaving bars and other establishments, Deputy Police Chief Al Venegas told the council.
The crowds of people waiting in line or eating near the mobile food vendors have congested the sidewalks, forcing pedestrians, many who have been drinking, to step into the street to get around or hail a cab, police said. Some people sit on the curb to eat, creating potential safety issues with vehicles, and trash and debris are left behind, Venegas told the council.
The number of food trucks parked on both sides of the street can sometimes block the view for police, he said. Police Capt. Carol Larson showed a short video taken of the Main Street scene over five days in August and September that she said illustrates the “party atmosphere” on the street and how people will jaywalk to cross the street or hail a cab due to the congestion.
“All of these are safety concerns that we’ve tried to address and minimize,” said Venegas.
The department has deployed additional officers to the area since July at a cost of $67,000 in unfunded overtime, as well as issued citations and made some arrests, he said.
“Despite these efforts, some of the safety concerns still remain evident,” the deputy police chief said.
Venegas said police don’t believe that the food trucks are causing the safety problems but they are concerned that many people who are in different states of inebriation are visiting the trucks and staying in the area long after the bars have closed. The situation could be less problematic if the trucks moved to a different location than Main Street, which has narrow sidewalks and is a busy thoroughfare, staff and police said.
“We’re not trying to do away with the food trucks; we’re just asking them to move to a separate location,” Venegas said. “The concentration is what we’re worried about.”
Matt Geller, president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said the group is always willing to work with cities when it comes to public safety concerns. Though Main Street does pose some safety issues on weekends, Geller pointed out that the area has experienced a boost in business over the past six months, including food trucks.
“While the food trucks are down there servicing those people, there has also been an increase in the popularity of the Main Street area which is good for business,” Geller told the council.
He added that if the mobile vendors are moved away due to the early morning restrictions, some of the same safety problems could be shifted to take-out restaurants in the area.
Moutrie noted the city is limited by state law on the restrictions it can impose on the food vendors, so staff proposed an ordinance that has narrow prohibitions. Staff were also asked to study the food truck situation in downtown and on Pennsylvania Avenue for possible improvements but they don’t believe that any restrictions are necessary in those areas, Moutrie said.
Councilman Terry O’Day said he sees the food trucks as an amenity that has helped increase business on the street.
“I think this could be a good thing that we have more people down there and I see the food trucks as an amenity that supports that,” he said.
O’Day, the lone dissenting vote on the ban, asked staff if another area site was considered to relocate the vendors, as opposed to the street ban. Moutrie responded that staff did not look for a way to keep the trucks in the area during the limited hours of the ban.
“What I’m not convinced of is we are taking as limited approach as I would like to see and I think we ought to take a harder look to see if there are places where we would allow them to exist where we can continue to provide this amenity and be rather specific about that,” O’Day said.
The council requested staff to report back on the progress of the ordinance within 90 days.