Thursday, October 14, 2010

Emeryville's Pushcart War

By Nick Sucharski
Thu, Oct 14, 2010 at 1:47 PM

Claims of unfair competition among mobile food vendors by restaurant owners in Emeryville have led the city to create a task force to examine and make changes to its current regulations for mobile vendors. The thirteen-member task force held its preliminary meeting Tuesday night, which was filled with back-and-forth banter between the opposing sides with the hope of reaching a resolution before the holidays.

As SF Weekly reported last month, the task force is composed of four truck vendors, five restaurant owners (who call themselves “brick and mortars”), two city council members, and four city residents who dine at both trucks and restaurants. Sitting around a large metallic table, the force hashed out an agenda of discussion items. Karen Hemphill, the City Clerk, provided items such as: limiting the geographic area that mobile food vendors may operate, limiting the number of mobile food vendors, raising permit fees, regulating mobile food vendors on private property, use of public right of way for cooking, seating and/or storage, and developing remedies for non-compliance with the ordinance.

“The problem here is that we let anyone in,” said Albert Repola, who owns Ruby’s Cafe. There are currently 32 mobile vendors operating in Emeryville, according to the clerk’s office. However, some of those are small vendors that aren’t selling food. Repola added that the city is only one square mile, which causes mobile vendors to sometimes operate unfairly close to restaurants. “There needs to be a certain distance from restaurants,” he said.

Currently, the city mandates that vendors must operate at least 200 feet from a competing restaurant. However, this regulation does not address those vendors that operate on private property, such as Jon’s Street Eats truck. Owner Jon Kosorek said he pays a fee to operate on private property on top of acquiring all the necessary city permits. He added that setting up chairs and signs on private property against his truck is completely legal. However, George Masarweh of Doyle Street Cafe said it’s unfair competition since his business can’t erect signs or chairs in the pedestrian right of way.

About one hour into the ninety-minute meeting, Kosorek and Masarweh began arguing, which turned into yelling about the fairness in using private property. Jonas Bernstein of Rotten City Pizza, who was sitting between the two, played mediator. “No matter what, this issue of private property needs to be discussed in detail,” Bernstein said to the other task force members as he attempted to quiet Masarweh and Kosorek. Bernstein is the fifth member of the brick and mortars. During the meeting he said he also owns mobile food vendors, which adds balance to his decisions since there are only four mobile vendor positions on the task force. However, Bernstein mentioned twice that mobile vendors aren’t subjected to the same building code regulations and other city scrutiny because of their mobility and further criticized multiple food trucks near his business.

After things calmed down, Gail Lillian, who owns the Liba Falafel truck, led the conversation to create an itemized list for the next meeting’s discussion that will include potential limitations on the number of vendors, the geographical area of operation, the distance of operation, and private property regulations.

The next meeting is scheduled to take place at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25, at a to-be-determined location. “The hard work is coming here and listening to each other,” Lillian said.

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