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State Bill Could Significantly Restrict Where Food Trucks Go

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A bill introduced last week by state Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel) could have serious impact on how food trucks do business, if the bill is made into law. AB 1678 calls for the prohibition of mobile vending within 1500 feet of an elementary or secondary school between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

AB 1678 asserts: "Mobile food vending diminishes participation in the school 14 nutrition programs, reinforces the stigma associated with eating school meals, and jeopardizes the fiscal viability of school nutrition programs at the local level." Further, the bill's authors suggest that food from mobile vendors is not as "nutritious" as the food offered at schools. [You can download a .pdf of the bill via NBC Bay Area's piece on the subject.]

Monning told Inside Scoop SF yesterday what prompted his authorship of the bill:

I’m particularly concerned about trend of preventable disease in young people. We’ve worked really hard to get more nutritious food in schools … We’ve had significant advancements and now the food trucks are serving as a magnet, and these aren’t the high end gourmet trucks we’re talking about. These are trucks pushing sodas, snacks. Even on a closed campus, some trucks pull up to the curb. If a truck were to be pushed back a little, it would help.
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Several Bay Area outlets picked up on the story of the proposed legislation late last week, and now Los Angeles-area mobile vendors have begun to talk about their opposition of the bill.

In an item titled "AB 1678: Not Good For California," the Southern California Mobile Food Vendor Association says the "bill is flawed in many respects," and articulates a concern of many food truck operators about how limiting these restrictions would be on how they do their business.

An argument raised by the SoCal MFVA and other mobile vendors is that those students still go to school and live in communities where there is easy access to unhealthy food. From the SoCal MFVA:

Even if one accepts the Author’s claim that students on closed campuses leave school to obtain unhealthy food, the Bill will do nothing to curb this alleged threat. The Bill does not purport to ban the sale of any particular type of food. So fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and gas station stores will continue to operate within the restricted area offering all manner of “unhealthy” food.

But Monning says mobile vendors represent "the most immediate threat" because they "park on the curbs," whereas brick-and-mortar places do not.

Many mobile vendors see these restrictions as unnecessary, and unfair, particularly when the state is in a precarious financial state, and could force several growing business to shut down.

Several food trucks, like L.A.'s Buttermilk Truck and Lake Street Creamery, have been Tweeting out links to a petition created by SoCal MFVA's Matt Gellar to to reject AB 1678. Meanwhile, the Bay Area's LIBA Falafel Truck appealed directly to the Assemblyman: "Hey Rep Monning @LIBAfalafel doesn't serve at "nightclubs" AND we have a 13-item salad bar. Please don't ban us after 2.5 yrs of biz," they Tweeted.

Still, Monning insists California's kids are obese and at risk for health issues like diabetes now more than ever, and while there's room for debate, he's not going to budge:

With all legislation, everything is subject to conversation and consideration but I’m not willing to compromise at this stage in the legislation … The common theme that will come out of my voice over and over is that I care about the trucks — but I really care about the children. This is not a solution looking for a problem. We know the problem. This is one step to the solution. These are complex social economic issues, but we’re confident that this will improve the current crisis.

AB 1678 may be discussed again in committee March 16.