A crowd of hungry patrons of an Off the Grid street food party. Image courtesy of {Guerilla Futures | Jason Tester}

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The San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved legislation Thursday to change planning codes that govern mobile food vending throughout the city.

The new rules are part of a city effort to address a street food scene in San Francisco that critics have long said is governed by outdated regulations and entry barriers too high for mobile vendors.

“The planning code currently treats mobile food facilities as if they were bricks-and-mortar restaurants,” said Dan Sider from the San Francisco Planning Department. “Given of course [that] mobile food facilities are by definition mobile, and therefore impermanent, we don’t think that’s entirely appropriate.”

The legislation, which was introduced to the commission by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, now moves on to the Board of Supervisors City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee for review on Monday — a committee on which Dufty sits.

Yesterday’s approval also comes in advance of companion legislation that will be presented before the Board of Supervisors next week aimed to address public works codes that govern street food vending in public places like streets and sidewalks.

Under the new legislation, a new category of temporary-use permits called intermittent activity permits will be available to food carts and trucks.

Intermittent activity permits will allow vendors to operate outside of public right-of-ways for up to six days a week for 12-hour shifts. Public right of ways are defined as streets and sidewalks. The new rules will also permit operation on private property and in public spaces like parks.

City workers who presented before the commission Thursday noted numerous times how this legislation would help entrepreneurs more easily start and run food businesses in the city.

“We are very interested in promoting food trucks and food carts as an opportunity for entrepreneurs,” said Ken Rich from the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “These businesses add to our city’s fantastic culinary riches and help us to activate underutilized spaces.”

Rich added that his office worked carefully with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association in drafting the legislation to be fair to brick-and-mortar establishments.

“In many cases, there has been some evidence to show that the additional activity and interest created by mobile food vendors actually helps surrounding businesses in the neighborhood,” Rich said.

The legislation requires vendors to be located outside of a building, but not in residential areas. Vendors must comply with set hours of operation — they may only operate up to three 24-hour shifts per week, or six 12-hours shifts per week.

It also requires that mobile food facilities that are 300 square feet or more in size must post public notice of operation in neighborhoods where notice is required. That limit was amended during today’s meeting from the initially proposed limit of 225 square feet after one food truck owner said that his vehicle exceeds the initial size for the exact purpose of minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment.

Hugh Schick, the owner of the Le Truc food truck, said that his vehicle exceeded the initial limit, because he offers seating inside his truck to avoid disturbing the neighborhood he operates in.

One question that arose later in the discussion was whether the Planning Commission would now hold jurisdiction over approving permits for operators such as Blue Bottle or La Cocina in Dolores Park.

While the commission would now have authority to approve permits for vendors in public parks, said Ken Rich, vendors must also seek approval from property owners. And when the property owner is the city, the Recreation and Park Department will still have decision-making power over the type and nature of vendors to be allowed in parks.

“I’m a fan and user of mobile food trucks,” said Planning Commission President Ron Miguel, adding that he was pleased to see the legislation come before the group yesterday.

Miguel recalled an Off the Grid street food party he recently attended, where food vendors were operating near wine bars and restaurants. All appeared to be generating good business.

Off the Grid has become a notable example of the type of mobile vending we may see more of with this legislation.

“We’re putting in place something,” Rich said of the street-food parties, “that allows the city to have that happen all the time.”

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Ashwin Seshagiri

Life-long Bay Area resident Ashwin Seshagiri moved to the Mission last year to pursue journalism professionally. Though at times cynical about the familiar haunts, he manages to uncover delightful surprises in the neighborhood’s interiors. When he’s not exploring, Seshagiri might be found playing bocce ball at Precita Park or making the devilish drive down Route 1 to Half Moon Bay.

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  1. Bevan Dufty once had heart. He now rules by the white and wealthy privileged thumb now that he’s made his money. I love food truckers but there needs to be limitations and room for everyone to profit without stepping one one anothers toes or setting up near schools whether in a park or not. Bevan will never get my vote, ever

  2. Hi Lois. Because the Tonayense trucks on Harrison park on streets, these rules don’t affect them. The Board of Supervisors will be meeting today and tomorrow about vendors that want to operate on public spaces, like streets and sidewalks.