Friend or Foe? Food Trucks on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

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By C.J. Gronner

So … we all need to have a little chat. How do you feel about the Mobile Food Vendor trucks that swarm into Venice each First Friday (and lots of other days too, just not as many)? In talking to store owners, neighbors, FF revelers, and friends, there appears to be many mixed feelings about them. It’s an issue that’s getting pretty heated, so we need to address it and come up with positive solutions, instead of just freaking out about it.

First Fridays started as a way to drum up business when the economy started its downturn. It worked. Gone are the free wine and loud music for the locals days, but that jump start did the trick, and now you can barely move at the beginning of each month, as crowded as it is.

With the increased popularity of that night each month, word got out among food truck operators (beginning with the Kogi one, that currently has 61,729 Followers on Twitter!)  and where there’s a buck to be made … They will come.  With them came a slew of issues of which each could – and should – be its own separate item on the Neighborhood Council agenda:  Trash.  Parking.  Safety.  Etc.  Etc.

There are pros and cons of the Food Truck epidemic.  They offer affordable food – pro.  They leave nowhere for anyone to park on First Fridays – con.  They bring new customers to Abbot Kinney – pro.  Those new customers throw their trash on the ground (or in my bike basket) – con.  They create a Carnival atmosphere – pro AND con.

One business owner says they hurt their business … customers can’t park or get past the line of people waiting for their “gourmet” taco to get inside, and they want to punch the rude truck worker out.  Another says it’s been great for business, and they give the truck a “Bathroom Letter” to use their restroom facilities.

(*In calls and emails to our Councilmember Rosendahl, Venice Officer Skinner, the LA County Health Inspectors, and City Hall, it  appears that there is only ONE regulation at the moment – that is the Trucks must be parked within 200 feet of a bathroom facility for the workers in the truck to use if they’re going to be parked over one hour, and have a letter from the permanent business offering the use of their bathroom.  That’s it.)

The Health Department Inspector I spoke to said that with 14,000 registered vehicles to keep up with (never mind the as many as 28,000 ones operating illegally), it’s hard to strictly regulate them all (especially in a State that’s pretty much broke).  8 Trucks were shut down for Health violations at the March First Friday, and there is no Rating System for food trucks (yet), so the Bathroom Letter is really the only weapon those opposed to them have to brandish.

I have no problem with the old time-y Mexican food trucks, like the great Taco one that is usually around Lincoln and Rose.  Those have been a big and important part of L.A. culture for years, and whatever regulations or crackdowns are to be implemented to keep the peace, I hope those original ones can somehow be Grandfathered out of the loop, so they can stay in business.  It’s the flashy (some corporate) new ones that we’re talking about here.

Some of my friends love the new trucks.  Many of them abhor them.  I personally feel like I do about Chain businesses … they don’t really seem to fit in Venice.  It bothered me to see a Pizza slice truck parked a half block away from Abbot’s Pizza Co., who have served up their delicious slices for years and years.  It irked me to see a guy in a wheelchair not able to navigate the narrow sidewalk because of the line swarming in front of one of the trucks.  It concerns me that with all the trucks parked on the street, it’s difficult to see around them to cross an already sketchy crosswalk at Palms.  It bugged me to return to my bike to see the basket filled with trash from the 11 (!) Food Trucks parked in The Brig parking lot across the street last First Friday.  But these are all things that can be addressed and dealt with.  Right?  Especially if they do indeed increase business for our local merchants whom we love.  But DO they?  I’ve heard many locals say that they now avoid First Friday because it’s turned into such a madhouse of Food Trucks and “Bridge and Tunnelers”.  What do YOU think?  There’s another First Friday right around the corner … observe and report!

The Food Trucks will be an agenda item at the next Neighborhood Council meeting, so attend and make yourselves heard.  Communicate openly about your concerns with the Food Truck Vendors themselves.  Write to the Beachhead (and become a Sustainer while you’re at it!) to offer your own creative solutions. But above all, please continue to support your LOCAL businesses, who made Abbot Kinney into a destination in the first place.

Word.

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