From the moment that California Assemblyman Bill Monning introduced the piece of legislature known as Assembly Bill 1678 back in February, it has been met with protests and bristling controversy. But, much to his credit, Monning is willing to go back to the drawing board and meet critics halfway. This week, he unveiled a new amended bill that addresses both concerned parents and concerned food truck owners.
AB 1678 does address a valid concern: backed by nutrition policy activist group California Food Policy Advocates, the bill aims to support healthy school lunch initiatives and protect schoolchildren from the unlimited junk food lying in wait just off campus at roach coaches and ice cream trucks. The original terminology of the bill, however, called for mobile food vendors of all types to park a minimum of 1,500 ft away from schools from 6AM to 6PM on school days. In dense urban areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, such parameters threatened to destroy the thriving food truck industry that has blossomed in recent years.
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In a report on rising opposition to the original AB 1678, The Huffington Post named San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener as one of the bill’s most vocal opponents – a fact that makes sense, given San Francisco’s large gourmet food truck population and the city’s proximity to California’s 27th State Assembly District where the bill originated:
Wiener called the bill "an extreme piece of legislation that...is a very non-urban approach that doesn't work in a city like San Francisco," and said he would be introducing two pieces of legislation at Tuesday afternoon's Board of Supervisors meeting: a non-binding resolution opposing Monning's bill and another measure easing the food truck restrictions already in place.
Ironically, San Francisco’s own law regarding food trucks reportedly includes a 1,500 foot buffer zone between trucks and middle/high schools – but the city includes an exception for trucks stationed at parks or on private property. In abolishing that exception in favor of statewide regulations, AB 1678 threatened to all but banish food trucks and food carts from San Francisco altogether. Another common criticism of the bill has been that it punishes high quality food trucks while doing nothing about fast food franchises and convenience stores. Off the Grid founder Matt Cohen told HuffPo: “I think it's selectively targeting one class of small businesses at the expense of others.”
However, in the same report, Assemblymember Monning told reporters that he was open to making changes to the bill, and was even working with food truck owners and health advocates to work out a piece of legislation that would better satisfy both sides of the equation:
"I'm confident we can hammer out language in the bill that threads the needle of protecting kids and allowing access for adults," [Monning] said.
Monning stayed true to his word, releasing the newly revised AB 1678 this week. This fresh take reduces the minimum buffer zone from 1,500 feet to 500 feet (a difference of approximately two city blocks) which would now be applied only to public schools. The new bill also allows schools to invite food trucks onto their grounds for special events and fundraisers, and allows mobile vending units to park on non-residential private property and construction sites. Most important of all is this amendment:
This section shall not be construed to limit or otherwise prohibit the enforcement of a local ordinance adopted prior to January 1, 2013, by a city, county, city and county, or district, including a school district, that regulates the location of operations by a mobile food facility, regardless of whether the local restriction is more or less restrictive than subdivision (a). This section also shall not be construed to limit or otherwise prohibit the adoption and enforcement of a local ordinance adopted on or after January 1, 2013, that is more restrictive of the location of operations by a mobile food facility than subdivision.
That is to say: before January 1, 2013, cities have the option to enact their own special ordinances that the statewide law could not infringe upon. It’s an amendment to keep an eye on – it could also potentially allow cities to pass even stricter laws against food trucks without state interference. But in the right hands, it could allow for more harmonious interactions between mobile vending units and city dwellers throughout the state.
Not everyone is totally satisfied – in counterpoint, bloggers at BeyondChron worry that the focus on harm to gourmet food trucks may be misguided, and that roach coaches and junk food purveyors may be the true voice behind the AB 1678 opposition campaign. But, true or not, there has to be a better way to offer children healthy lunch options without wiping out whole cities’ worth of small businesses. The latest amendments that Monning has made may be enough to properly look out for industry and citizens alike.