Los Angeles Times

South Pasadena grapples with food trucks

The South Pasadena law governing food trucks is getting bad reviews from all customers.

Merchants want the city to do more to protect traditional businesses from losing customers to rolling restaurants. A coalition of food truck operators has sued to get South Pasadena’s law regulating them overturned. And South Pasadena police are not enforcing the current law while city leaders sort it all out.

South Pasadena sees food trucks each week near the farmers’ market by the South Pasadena Gold Line station, and merchants say they see the occasional truck on Fair Oaks Avenue, sometimes right in front of their businesses.

Zahra Shahnian, owner of Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, said food trucks pose a danger to her customers, sending smoke into the air and creating a blind spot for drivers.

Food trucks, she said, “can go in front of parks or other places. They can move. We can’t.”

South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President Scott Feldmann said he believes food trucks have their place, but that place is not right in front of businesses.

“We would like to have food trucks in South Pasadena for special events,” Feldmann said. “But we want to discourage food trucks from cannibalizing sales from our brick-and-mortar restaurants.”

Feldmann is working with city officials to study the problem and revise the city’s regulation.

A city law prohibits parking along any roadway “for the principal purpose of selling therefrom.”

But the California Vehicle Code allows sales from a parked vehicle, as long as the vehicle complies with parking rules.

On Aug. 30, an organization representing food trucks, the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Assn., filed a lawsuit against the city.

Kevin Behrendt and Jeff Dermer, attorneys representing the association, say the South Pasadena prohibition on food truck sales is “invalid and we’d like it repealed,” Behrendt said.

Behrendt compared the tension between traditional restaurants and food trucks to the battle between video stores and services such as Netflix.

“If businesses are upset with food trucks in their market, they have to find a way to compete,” he said. “Why should [the city] be looking over one business’ interests over another’s?”

Meanwhile, South Pasadena Police Chief Joseph Payne said his department is not enforcing the current law.

“You cannot go after food trucks simply because of the nature of their business, but you can address specific public safety concerns that food trucks present,” Payne said. “Those have to do with public health and also traffic safety.”

Payne said the Los Angeles County Health Department is responsible for enforcing health laws governing food trucks.

Merchants are hoping to find a solution that takes best advantage of the food truck phenomenon while giving restaurants without wheels a fair shake.

Steve Inzunza, owner of Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza on Fair Oaks and a member of the South Pasadena Economic Development Committee, said, “Food trucks are really value-added in the right markets and underserved communities. But from my perspective, it doesn’t seem equitable to have one of them pull right up in front of a bricks-and-mortar [restaurant].”

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