It was nearly standing room only as community members crowded into the Oakdale City Council meeting on Monday night, March 2 to voice their opinion on one particular issue: food trucks in the downtown area.
Food trucks have become the rising star in food service as more people seek a variety of culinary options that won’t dig into the wallet, which makes the mobile food option a popular accessory to many craft breweries.
Last Call Brewery, a local brewery at 159 N. First Ave., capitalized on this growing trend with great success until concerns about permits, ADA access, potential fire hazards, and a murky application of rules and regulations that, to some, appeared imbalanced resulted in the Planning Commission denying the brewery’s minor use permit.
The owners of Last Call Brewery appealed the Planning Commission’s decision, encouraging community members and patrons to show their support at the Council meeting.
And, boy, did they.
The public hearing saw a large swath of supporters taking the podium from patrons who enjoy the family atmosphere to friendly competitors who subscribe to the belief, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ but the message was clear — thumbs up on the food trucks and hey, let’s all be friends.
While support was in the majority, not everyone in the crowd felt the same.
Paul and Amy Rivera, owners of Rivi’s, a brick-and-mortar wine bar and restaurant in the same area, raised concerns about the rules and regulations governing food service businesses being applied fairly across the board, no matter who owned the business. The Riveras alluded to the fact that Councilwoman Ericka Chiara, who is part owner of Last Call Brewery with her husband and Josh Garcia, seemed to be getting preferential treatment from the city.
Chiara recused herself from the discussion and the vote regarding the issue.
Amy Rivera took to the podium first, sharing that they invested $100,000 between them to open Rivi’s because they believed in their vision to create something that was needed in Oakdale but were faced with several delays due, in part, to the requirement of a grease trap that not only set them back five months but also cost an additional $10,000.
Owners of Suzy Belen’s, a popular Mexican restaurant in the area, had previously also gone on public record to express concerns regarding the mobile food vendors.
However, in spite of the professional friction, Amy Rivera clarified, “It was never our intention to try to harm Last Call’s business. We consider them friends and business associates. All we’ve ever asked is that all business conducted in the downtown area conform to the same rules and guidelines for everyone.”
She added, “There has to be a happy medium …We’d also like to have a food vendor in front of our establishment as well. So why can’t we meet in the middle? And perhaps ask Astro’s if they’d allow us to put a food vendor in their parking lot at the end of their business hours. Patrons can walk to either establishment and food from vendors would be just as welcome at Rivi’s and Last Call.”
City administration admitted that currently, the city doesn’t have a specific guideline governing food trucks but given the growing trend and support, were going to address the issue, which was included in the staff’s proposal to Council.
Garcia addressed the Council, saying, “We decided to start this petition to see what kind of responses we would get and we were overwhelmed by the community support toward our mobile food vendors. We’ve got over 650 signed signatures on our petition … all in favor of their support.”
Garcia added to address a few concerns, continuing, “For a food vendor to operate at our tasting room, they do have to have a City of Oakdale business license. The exact same license that the brick and mortars do. They have to be approved by the Stanislaus County Health Department, the same as the brick and mortar also. They have to pay sales and use tax … the same again as it is brick and mortar in Oakdale.”
Additionally, Garcia said the food trucks, which are considered commercial vehicles, must be inspected by the California Highway Patrol before they go into service and must follow all DOT (Department of Transportation) regulations, which include the requirement of a fire extinguisher on the vehicle.
Garcia also pointed out that while some of the food vendors might not be specific to Oakdale (although some are, such as The Smokin’ Oakie) the foot traffic they bring to the downtown area is significant, which benefits all of Oakdale.
“They have a huge fan base,” Garcia said. “In the past 11 months that we’ve been open downtown, we’ve had over 4,000 people in our taproom, not from our county … and you know they didn’t come alone. They brought friends.”
Garcia admits much of their downtown success has been because of the food vendors.
“Last Call, along with our vendors, have become a community hub we’re proud of,” Garcia said.
Councilmember Rich Murdoch thanked the large crowd for attending the public hearing, saying their feedback was integral to the process of improving services and quality of life within Oakdale.
“This has been great. I’m so glad you all came out. I think this is what a small town is all about,” Murdoch said. “I think you’ve done a great job on both sides of this thing and I’m really grateful to all of you.”
Councilmember Christopher Smith agreed with Murdoch, expressing his support for encouraging business and growth within the community.
“The decision we make tonight is going to be based on what’s best for Oakdale and what’s best for the businesses in Oakdale,” Smith said. “… And I think the overwhelming majority here speaks clearly.”
Smith agreed that whatever brings “tennis shoes” into Oakdale was a good thing, though he wanted more attention brought to some regulation discrepancies addressed by the Riveras to clear up potential murky waters.
City Council members voted to overturn the Planning Commission’s previous denial of the applicant’s minor use permit 3-0 with Councilmember Chiara abstaining and Councilmember Cherilyn Bairos absent.
Going forward the minor use permit will be valid for six months and during that time the mobile food vendors must maintain a clearance of at least 15 feet from an existing fire hydrant, must adhere to the defined schedule as detailed in the application and must maintain a minimum of 44 inches of clearance on the E Street sidewalk at all times during mobile food vendor operation.