The Ceres City Council has developed an appetite to end a longstanding ban against food vending trucks in Ceres- but only on a limited diet. On Monday the City Council expressed a desire to allow taco trucks and other food vendors to set up in Ceres during special events and under specific circumstances.
Taco trucks and food wagons are commonplace in Modesto, Turlock, Empire and other communities but in Ceres they have not permitted in decades. Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said policies in cities range from "anything goes" to total bans.
In January 2018 former Ceres liquor store owner John Georgis asked the council to consider removing the long-time restriction.
Wells asked the council for their opinion before devoting much staff time to crafting ordinance changes. None of the councilmembers present - Mayor Chris Vierra, Vice Mayor Mike Kline and Councilmembers Bret Durossette and Linda Ryno - wished to continue the ban. Councilman Ken Lane was absent.
Wells said the city should design a program that "helps supplement our brick-and-mortar businesses." He specifically named tap rooms, such as the new Blaker Brewing which serves craft beer but not food. Both he and the council wish to not impact existing restaurants.
"The last thing we want to do is create a program where a food truck can take away from business of someone who's already invested in our community," said Wells.
Other cities allow mobile food vendors under certain guidelines, like if they have access to permanent fixed restrooms by contractual arrangements, are licensed and permitted, and park on paved surfaces.
Durossette said he wouldn't mind Ceres following the example of Anderson and Redding up north which allow five vendors to set up Friday and Saturday evenings in the park during warmer months to sell a variety of foods, "not just taco trucks."
"I don't think we go to the full-blown food trucks on Mitchell Road, 24 hours a day. I don't think that's good for Ceres and I don't like the way it looks," said Durossette. "Obviously you drive down Crowslanding (Road) and you can see that."
Durossette agreed that food trucks could help businesses like Blaker Brewing. He also commented that Ceres is losing business when people have to leave town to access food wagons operating elsewhere.
Ryno likes the idea of allowing food trucks at special events.
"I don't know about every Friday and Saturday," said Ryno, "because then I think you're going to be taking away from our brick-and-mortar." She noted that Manteca has special events in a community park once a month where food vendors as far away as Sacramento come in. Ryno said she's not wild about the condition for a restroom, giving the example that food trucks could team up with car lots to set up regular hours.
"I can see for a special event, even once a month maybe at the park during the summer but we need to be really careful that we don't do anything to hurt the businesses that have their business going on right now," she said.
Kline said food trucks could be crafted for special events at limited locations.
"I don't want them open 24/7," said Kline.
"I don't necessarily want a free-for-all but I do want to open it up," said Mayor Vierra. "I would like to see some kind of criteria for the licensing ... I also like the provision for special events."
He also liked the concept of allowing trucks for certain larger businesses, noting how the Gallo Center in downtown Modesto allows a rotation of "high end" food trucks once a week to cater to their employees for lunch. Vierra said the valley air district on which he is a board member sees a benefit by reducing car trips to eateries.
Ceres residents Leonard Shepherd and Dave Pratt both said it might be a good idea to allow food vendors to set up in industrial areas.
Paula Redfern said that a food vendor is already visiting industrial areas like Rockefeller and suggested that the city has no manpower to enforce any policy.
"Ceres has nobody to enforce that," said Redfern. "There's all kinds of itinerant vendors that area doing business right now - be it strawberries, phone sales, flowers, whatever - and nobody's enforcing it. You don't have the manpower to enforce it. So if you have this, you're opening up yet another thing Ceres can't enforce."
Shelia Brandt said the city should allow food trucks in industrial areas because employees sometimes don't have time during lunch to leave for warm food. She said existing restaurants would not be against food vendors which supply foods not currently available in Ceres, such as barbecue.
Renee Ledbetter of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce said her group is supportive of food trucks for special events such as Concerts in the Park.
"If you're going to allow it in any place I would encourage the industrial areas," said Ledbetter. "I have talked to businesses out in the Miller Industrial area and sometimes those guys don't have time to drive across town and grab lunch."
She noted that she doesn't want to see "day-to-day competition with our brick-and-mortar restaurants."
Lee Brandt suggested the city stay on top of cleanliness around food wagons.
Mayor Vierra suggested a rigorous permit process for vendors to make them stay atop on cleanliness. He suggested the city could have vendors post a recognizable sticker that would allow enforcers to if they are legal at a glance.