San Luis Obispo seeks to regulate food trucks, other mobile vendors

Hungry customers wait as Lori Nunes gets her Kunfusion food truck ready for lunch service in the Animal Care Clinic parking lot.
Hungry customers wait as Lori Nunes gets her Kunfusion food truck ready for lunch service in the Animal Care Clinic parking lot. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Lori Nunes, owner of mobile food truck KunFusion Kulinary, carries a resealable bag filled with all the various permits and licenses she needs to operate at locations throughout the county.

Now, a new ordinance being considered by the San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday night could add even more operating rules for Nunes and other mobile vendors in the city.

The city cannot legally ban mobile vendors, but it can regulate where, when and how they operate.

If the ordinance is approved by the council, mobile vendors may be prohibited from parking in school zones during school hours; customers must not be in another vehicle, either sitting or standing; and neighborhoods would be off limits between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The rules would apply to all mobile vendors, not just food vendors. A mobile vendor is defined as a vehicle that sells or distributes merchandise, food or services directly to the public from the vehicle while parked in the public right-of-way.

The vendors would also have to pay an additional tax if they sell within the Downtown Business Improvement District.

Nunes, who focuses a lot of her business in San Luis Obispo during lunchtime, said the rules are part of running a business and that she’d gladly comply.

She already has some of her own standards, such as not parking downtown because she doesn’t want to compete directly with restaurants there.

“If I were paying rent every month on a restaurant, would I really want a food truck parked in front of me? No,” said Nunes, who specializes in Asian-style cuisine.

The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s board of directors voted against the ordinance because of their concerns about the potential competition downtown.

“While it was pointed out and understood that competition cannot legally be the basis of denying these types of businesses, it remains — at least for the Downtown Association members who operate food establishments — a potential threat to their existence if some number of vendors begin setting up shop in downtown areas and siphoning off customers from established businesses,” Executive Director Deborah Cash said in a memo to the City Council.

While the association acknowledges that some kind of ordinance needs to be in place, the group doesn’t want to be seen supporting city rules that legitimize such mobile competition.

Concerns about allowing mobile vendors in residential neighborhoods have also been expressed.

Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, a community group focused on preserving and enhancing San Luis Obispo’s quality of life, wants the vendors to only be allowed in neighborhoods from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“RQN remains very concerned that the additional foot, bicycle and vehicle traffic generated by the presence of mobile food trucks in residential neighborhoods will exacerbate the unsafe conditions that already exist on many of our residential streets,” said Sandra Rowley, chairwoman, in a letter to the council.

“We remain concerned that the mobile food trucks will be enticing to individuals who are looking for places to congregate and visit with one another,” Rowley said.

The San Luis Obispo City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at 990 Palm St.