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Parking War Comes to a Halt on 5700 Wilshire as City Councilmembers Debate Food Trucks

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Trucks lined the streets this afternoon on the 5700 block of Wilshire Blvd. | Photo by Brian Frobisher

Trucks lined the streets this afternoon on the 5700 block of Wilshire Blvd. | Photo by Brian Frobisher
L.A.'s city council transportation committee today will be focusing on food trucks, which , depending on where you stand, are either beloved or bothersome. Today, three motions aimed at possible regulations will be discussed, but the dialogue will likely end up diving into misconceptions about operating a truck and the purpose of parking."Meters are intended to stimulate parking turnover in high-volume business areas," Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who recently authored two food truck motions, wrote in an op-ed in the L.A. Business Journal. "Food trucks park for hours at expired meters, monopolizing public parking spaces and absorbing the cost of a citation as a business expense. These oversized trucks sometimes park in red zones, block driveways and/or take up more than one space in metered parking areas."

This puzzled many because the very businesses LaBonge was trying to project began doing just that. Employees from landlord Museum Square began "monopolizing public parking spaces and absorbing the cost of a citation as a business expense" on the 5700 block of Wilshire in an apparent effort to stop food trucks from parking near restaurants. The parking games began in mid-June and reportedly stopped today as media swarmed the block to report on this afternoon's meeting.

Another item likely to be discussed today are misconceptions about food trucks. "A familiar refrain used by opponents of the food truck industry is that food trucks do not compete on a level playing field because “a truck has no overhead,”" said Matt Geller, who heads up the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association, in a LABJ op-ed response to LaBonge. "This is simply untrue. Truck rentals can be more than $4,000 a month with commissary fees. Operators are required to have a business license for every municipality in which they do business. Most trucks have at least three. They pay for gasoline, insurance, employees and taxes. Many trucks also rent commercial kitchens for preparing food. Even if their overhead is slightly lower, they aren’t able to charge as much for their product because they don’t provide the same services."

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For Stephen Box, who is challenging LaBonge in the 2011 municipal election, says the food truck motions are too specific. "This will set in motion a series of unintended consequences, all while continuing the City Council tradition of attacking symptoms while ignoring systemic failures," he wrote, continuing to talk about failed parking policies throughout the city. "LA's Transportation Committee is at a fork in the road, it can proceed with a directive to restrict Food Trucks from commercial zones or it can pursue the larger systemic issue and embrace a solution that is good for everybody."

In the end, what the City Council will do will be dictated by what's available via the law and balance of resident desires. "Los Angeles is a city of villages," said LaBonge. "The villages offer a sense of community and rootedness within the great metropolis of Los Angeles, which is extremely important. I want to protect those villages - where small business owners are very concerned about food trucks - and at the same time, I want to support this new, home-grown, burgeoning industry."

The meeting (.pdf) is scheduled for 2 p.m. at city hall. Those who cannot attend can listen to the meeting live over the phone or online.