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By Molly Gore
By Molly Gore
By Pete Kane
By Lou Bustamante
By Pete Kane
By Ashley Goldsmith
By Pete Kane
By John Birdsall
When Anamika Khanna and Tim Volkema, two of Kasa Indian Eatery's owners, learned that the Department of Public Works would start taking applications for food-truck permits on Mar. 7, 2011, they camped outside the office for three rainy nights, joining other food-truck owners eager to claim prime locations.
Khanna and Volkema had spent weeks scouting locations for their two unbuilt trucks, and they had specific criteria. "We wanted to not block a storefront, not be near an Indian restaurant, and to observe all the rules around sidewalks and parking places," Khanna said. Most of the spots they chose were in the Financial District, where they could park for a few hours in a busy area, sell lunch, and leave. They filed their permit applications and paid to send notification letters to all businesses within 300 feet of each site.
Soon after, Moneshpal Josan, owner of a Subway and a 7-Eleven on Drumm Street, received his notification that Kasa was applying for spots at 50 California and 61 Beale, both close to his shops. He immediately filed a protest, as did several other restaurant owners and FiDi property managers. At the April 2011 hearing, the DPW granted six of the eight locations Kasa had applied for, including 50 California and 61 Beale. Meanwhile, Josan had received notice of four more permit applications, including a coffee-and-pastry truck applying to park directly in front of his 7-Eleven. "This guy wants to block my front view and steal my customers off the sidewalk, and the city has allowed him to apply," he fumes.
Downtown businesses have decided to fight back en masse against the trucks. An informal coalition of lawyered-up restaurateurs and property managers filed nine separate appeals against Kasa's two FiDi spots, as well as four more appeals against two nearby spots the city had awarded to Doc's of the Bay, a hamburger truck.
An acrimonious showdown took place Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Board of Appeals, ending in defeat for both food trucks, despite their having followed the DPW process to the letter. The hearing, a de facto town hall on the validity of the city's new food truck ordinance, demonstrated the fear that downtown businesses are feeling about the food truck scene — and the considerable flaws in the new ordinance as it has been crafted. With dozens more trucks applying to park on the same blocks, the board's decision last week may determine the future of food trucks downtown.
Before Mar. 7, 2011, a food truck owner wanting to park on the street needed to apply to the Police Department for a permit to park at up to five specific spots. The process was expensive — $9,300 for the initial fee — but straightforward, and did not include public input. In late 2010, then-Supervisor Bevan Dufty, seeking to help out the exploding food truck movement, worked with numerous groups to streamline the permitting process, reduce fees, and move it under the aegis of the DPW. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the new ordinance in December 2010.
Instead of fostering the food truck scene, the Dec. 14 hearing showed that the supervisors may have made it harder — and ultimately more expensive — for trucks to park on the street. Especially downtown.
The two spots Khanna and Volkema selected are blocks of tall buildings, with few street-front businesses and no trucks to date. Most of the existing restaurants serve similar food. "There is an oversaturation of one type of food: sandwiches, soups, and salad," Khanna says — nothing like Kasa's kati rolls and curry rice plates.
The parking places are one-hour metered spots, some in yellow zones, but that didn't seem to be a problem to Kasa's owners — dozens of long-permitted food trucks park in identical spaces. Another nonissue, they thought: the Health Department's requirement to secure an agreement from an existing business to let Kasa's employees use the bathroom. Kasa paid $5,000 for the permit that was subsequently contested. It named four locations, one of which the DPW rejected before the first hearing. After the hearing, Khanna and Volkema now only have one approved Mission Bay location left on the permit. If they decide to move or change hours when their year is up, they'll have to repeat the entire process.
While Khanna and Volkema assumed they were bringing something new to office workers, downtown restaurateurs saw the Kasa truck as a direct competitor — one whose operating costs were far below their own. "Downtown restaurants' rent is $9,000-$15,000 a month, and most are quick-service restaurants," says Alex Aguilar, owner of Orale Orale, two blocks away from 50 California. Kasa may only have been applying to park near him a few hours a day, but those were the hours when Orale Orale does the bulk of its business.
Another group anxious to block downtown food trucks are real estate management firms representing building owners and restaurant tenants. They're convinced that the onslaught of food trucks is going to drive down rents and, ultimately, the value of commercial real estate. The managers have gained the support of the powerful Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), whose San Francisco director of government and public affairs, Ken Cleaveland, came to the hearing to speak in favor of the appellants. "The new legislation was supposed to bring life and vitality to parts of the city that didn't have established food vendors," he told the SF Weekly in a telephone interview. "I completely concur with that. But the mobile food facilities have descended on downtown with an overwhelming number of permits."
The DPW says 89 applications have been received since Mar. 7, and each one can include up to seven locations; roughly half cite spots in the FiDi. Only 15 of the first batch of permits have been granted, eight of them for downtown sites. With many more applications in the pipeline and energized opposition, there will be many more hearings like last week's.
The Board of Appeals upheld the appeals based on several technicalities, including a bathroom agreement form that Kasa hadn't had signed. But board members universally condemned the new food-truck legislation for its vague language and potential for economic harm.
While the battles heat up in city hearing rooms and along gossip grapevines, Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has taken on Bevan Dufty's oversight of the food-truck ordinance, has organized a working group to address some of the challenges and gaps in the new legislation. BOMA is involved in the group, which has met once so far, as are the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and Matt Cohen, founder of Off the Grid. Being discussed, members say, are critical questions like "Should there be a density cap on food trucks downtown?" and "What should we do about metered parking spots?" Then there's the quandry of what constitutes fair competition: Are Kasa's kati rolls distinct from ham sandwiches, or should both be considered takeaway food?
Khanna and Volkema say that though they are disappointed in the outcome, they remain "resilient and respectful." Subway owner Josan, meanwhile, is angry at the city for all the time and money he's losing fighting off the new trucks. "The city administration has handled this very callously," he says. "Very irresponsible. That's harsh, but I'll use that term."
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I am sick of these stupid trucks. The prices are the same as a brick business but their costs are not. And the trade off is giving up even more scarce parking to private enterprises. The only people for this are the bicycle nazis and the food truck owners.
Kasa should be more concerned about the terrible quality of its food. That'll put it out of business well before it has a chance to take away business from a Subway.
I wonder how many are trying for spots out by SFSU. It's a DESERT out there, food-wise. I've pretty much given up on lunch entirely.
To the author - did you research how the denial of permits conflicts with state law? The state vehicle code says very clearly that municipalities may ONLY restrict trucks for the narrow purposes of health and public safety; which of those criteria was behind the denial of permits? What did the city say about this when you asked them? I assume you did ask them.
Is there any actual real data showing that restaurants, of which 80% go out of business in San Francisco after 2 years, are going out of business at a higher rate when in neighborhoods frequented by trucks?
Trucks have their place, but I don't want my favorite city to be a ghost town. Love the food and hospitality business, I have worked on both sides of the fence for 30 years. Each and every hardworking business owner whether truck or brick &mortar can acknowledge, that we can work in a complimentary way for everyone's benefit. So take the high road and do the right thing.
They should get a refund on the permits. If you fill out a permit, pay the fee and then get 5-6 spots THEN to have them taken from you. You should get the difference of the permit refunded back. Or rolled over onto the next year to choose different locations. Its ludicrous you can follow the cities rules to the letter, only to have some whinny NIMBY's gum up the works and change the rules midway thru the permit.
If the biz owners and prop managers were upset, do not take it out on the food truck - TAKE IT UP WITH YOUR CITY!!!!!!!!
And maybe try selling something MORE to your customers then the same sandwiches, salads and soups that everyone else is sell them for $9+ a pcs. It shows more about your lack of wanting to update/change your menu offerings then it does about the "attack of the food trucks"
You know you have a captive, repeat, customer base try CHANGING THINGS UP A BIT!
"Downtown restaurants' rent is $9,000-$15,000 a year . . ."===
That can't be right. It must be "a month," not "a year."
Your foodie antagonism toward brick and mortar establishments is unfair. It's a brutal business, selling food, and it doesn't get any easier when the City lets your competitor use parking in front of your store (usually for your customers) to sell competing wares in front of your door. It's called unfair competition. The food trucks (which want to be in the food service business without investing in the capital that a full-fledged restaurant requires) have become almost militant in the dogged belief that they have the right to sell their wares without regard to the impact on an existing businesses (although SF routinely fights big box retailers when they threaten small businesses...hence the aged fight over Walgreens on Haight St., and Home Depot in Portrero Hill etc.).
SF has repeatedly and consistently limited the right to open new restaurants and bars in areas where there is a concentration. The same should hold true for food trucks; your usage cannot be inconsistent with what is already there.
"The two spots Khanna and Volkema selected are blocks of tall buildings, with few street-front businesses and no trucks to date. Most of the existing restaurants serve similar food." That is not correct, as I worked across the street. The Drumm St. spot, for example, is on a block of small, older, historically significant buildings across from the Hyatt Hotel. (And no, haters, I do not own a restaurant and have no connection to these companies). The restaurants are a Vietnamese Banh Mi place, a middle eastern restaurant selling falaffel, a Chinese restaurant, and a burrito place around the corner. Each, to my knowledge, is owned by a small businessman or woman. The customers are nearby office workers, limo and cab drivers who park on Drumm, tourists and others.
There is nothing wrong with a food truck in a place that isn't cutting other people off at the knees. But given the rents and the costs of owning and operating a small business in the City, the food truck operators are asking for something at the expense of others. I'm all in favor of good food, but not when it takes away someone else's meal.
What if the business next to you closed down and a new restaurant opened up? Would that also be unfair? Probably not, because thats what happens. look at Chestnut, Polk, Castro, the MISSION. rows and rows of restaurants. Thats not unfair, thats business.
And if the food they are serving out of a truck is different its giving the people that work in those offices everyday a variety of options. Spread around the $ love a little bit. Arent you tired of going to the same 3 places every week?
And lastly, they are not setting up a permanent truck there, they park for a couple of hours and then leave, so its not like they are taking business away from the those places 24-7-365 is it?
I only agree with the idea of limiting the location of a food truck if its in DIRECT competition with a bricknmortar, anything else should be fair game.
And this couple, Khanna and Volkema should get a refund on their permit. They followed the rules only to have it changed afterwards. You want to talk about killing small business, you try putting up 10K for permits for 5 -6 locations only to end up with 1. THAT is killing a small business!
You miss the point. If a brick and mortar business opens up next to another one, that is fair competition. The truck has low overhead and can move locations easily whenever he or she sees the business move. They are apples and oranges as businesses.
As the piece pointed out, no, they're not taking the business 24-7. They are seeking to swoop in for only the most profitable hours and then leave during the less profitable ones. Alas, the brick-and-mortar businesses pay rent 24-7 and don't get free rent for the hours where they are closed. So, your new neighbor moving in example pays those same expenses and plays on a level playing field.
At bottom, the streets are public space. The food truck question boils down whether we should allow these carts to lease this public space at subsidized rates. So, I can see how some brick and mortar owners say it's unfair even if the business is not directly competitive. The FD and the public are not well served if Drumm Street (to use the example of a poster) has vacant properties as a result of the competition. Sure, food trucks could still feed me but vacant properties bring all sorts of risks and damage to the neighborhood unrelated to whether I have another food choice for lunch.
I do agree that there should be some partial refund. A complete refund tips the scales - there is then no downside to mass-filing of applications.
Monkeyfrog, it's obvious you don't know jack about how this city works. You have no business experience and are clueless. 10k is dogshit. 10k-15k is what the rent is for these brick & mortar every month. At to that utilities, CAM charges (common area charges), NNN charges (paying % shares of landlord's property taxes), and a multitude of other charges that food trucks don't incur. That's overhead.
Also, those few hours the trucks want to park...that's called lunch hour. The make it or break it hours.
To allow someone like you to define what fair game and "direct" competition means would be a scary proposition.
The best compromise is for the trucks to frequent the offices on Oyster Point Blvd in SSF. There are literally 100's of offices with the closest food in Tanforan Mall. 10 mins away. Come to south city, I would love to eat here instead of driving all over. Most live in SF so you can still charge your high prices.