Sunday, July 5, 2020
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Food Truck Blues

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

“Gourmet” food trucks and communities with budding art walks have increasingly developed a relationship that’s akin to a newly-wedded marriage.

Everything is golden at first and that is so because each bring gifts to the table that complement the other and allows both to thrive.

Food trucks are their own marketing machines, each drawing hundreds of their fans to wherever they may be with a single tweet or a single post on their blog. Art walks provide the perfect festival-like venue that complements and maximizes a food trucks drawing power.

Some of Los Angeles County’s artsy-est corners have art walks. And, in the past couple of years, they have begun inviting food trucks for their legions of fans to bolster their art walk’s foot traffic.

Venice has First Fridays. Downtown Los Angeles has Second Thursdays. Long Beach has its love/hate relationship with food trucks in that they aren’t generally found at First Fridays or Second Saturdays, but can be found weekly at the ZaSo Design District in the summer time. And then, there’s San Pedro, and its First Thursday Art Walk, which has been a success in drawing huge crowds.

But like any marriage, there are always things that one partner does that irks the hell out the other.

This past year, Downtown Los Angeles’ Art Walk was shut down after a car jumped a curb and hit a 2-month-old baby in his stroller, while the arts district was filled with pedestrians enjoying the food trucks, open galleries and bars. Though a food truck was not involved in the accident, the regulatory focus was on them. Amidst the fallout was a debate over whether downtown art walk was more a drunken festival than a venue intended to showcase cutting-edge art.

San Pedro’s Art Walk hasn’t yet had to traverse those crossroads but the traffic that the food trucks are drawing and their management is the root of recent skirmishes over the issue in San Pedro.

Allyson Vought, Arts, Culture, and Entertainment subcommittee chair on food trucks in San Pedro, has been one of the strongest proponents of trucks. She notes that the  trucks have done exactly what they were supposed to do: Draw foot traffic.

Vought believes that food trucks have been effectively and logically managed. For the most part, the trucks do not directly compete with any of the brick and mortar restaurants.

“I think we ran it in a very logical approach into how we facilitate the trucks, where we put them and how we bring them into town,” Vought said. “Now our rule is that we don’t bring in a truck that competes directly with a local stakeholder in the way of food.

“We don’t have Greek trucks we don’t have Mexican trucks, fish and chip or anything like. We really strive to be very selective on who we bring in.”

There are no hard numbers that gauge the economic impact of food trucks on art walks. Vought, however, gauges the art walk’s success by how many bags of popcorn she gives out.

“We give away hundreds of bags of popcorn and when we first started giving away popcorn we would give away 20 to 30 bags,” she said.

The Whale & Ale restaurateur, Andrew Silber, notes that there is no right or wrong answer as to what the right number of food trucks there should be in the district. He just knows that there’s unequal distributions of burden and benefits related to the trucks.

“I like the food trucks,” Silber said. “I was an early supporter. I just feel it’s all of our responsibility to protect this event (First Thursday Art Walk). We owe it to the community.”

The complaints are that they block the entrances of some business; and because a truck can only operate if there is access to a restroom within 200 feet of the vehicle, some proprietors have to shoulder most of the brunt of non-paying customers utilizing their restroom. Another complaint is that the trucks as they are currently positioned, do little to spread foot traffic throughout the district.

Vought notes that there are no laws specifically regulating where trucks can be brought. But food trucks require the cooperation of local businesses for their facilities in order to stay in compliance with the law.

The Arts Culture and Entertainment district manages the placement of trucks by sort of an opt-in process where local businesses agree to operate by the same rules but does nothing to reinforce violations of the opt-in rules.

The trucks are situated in clusters next to restroom facilities—three clusters, in fact: Along 7th Street between Mesa and Centre streets; on Mesa between 6th and 7th; and at least this past First Thursday, on 6th Street between Pacific and Mesa.

Lack of public restrooms has been an ongoing issue, placing the burden onto a few businesses leading to an unequal distribution of costs and benefits.

With the high demand for food trucks and the scarcity of public restrooms, a reasonable degree of cooperation between local businesses has the potential of getting everyone what they want.

Recently, ACE board president and executive director of Angels Gate Cultural Center Deborah Lewis moved to commission cost/benefit analysis in conjunction with Marymount University. The study will gather the thoughts of local merchants, property owners, and the general public.

As in any good relationship, communication is important. The issue of food truck placement was largely squashed with the spreading out of the trucks. But the conversation as to what the art walk should look like will be an ongoing one that will occasionally filled with tension and backbiting. But in the end, everyone is interested in a beautiful and productive relationship.

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