Students would have more lunch choices and mobile vendors more space to operate under a new proposal to ease food restrictions near public schools, but parent groups say the plan will just make it easier for kids to snack on unhealthy meals.
Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow mobile food vendors to operate within 500 feet, or one city block, of San Francisco’s public middle and high schools. Under current city ordinance, vendors are banned from selling their wares within 1,500 feet of schools, except in parks.
While introducing his proposed ordinance, Wiener also asked the Board of Supervisors to oppose a proposed state law that would enforce a similar 1,500-foot ban throughout California.
Wiener said those rules are overbroad and hurt small businesses, consumers, and students who would otherwise be able to access the increasingly healthy options provided by mobile food trucks.
Buoyed by events like Off the Grid, mobile vendors in The City have shifted from traditional fares like tacos and hot dogs to increasingly more artisanal and healthy options, said Tim Volkema, co-owner of Kasa Indian Eatery, a Castro District restaurant that also uses food carts to sell its products.
“The health of the food trucks has improved dramatically,” said Volkema.
Monica Wong, owner of Little Green Cyclo, an organic mobile vendor specializing in Vietnamese cuisine, said easing the school restrictions will help reduce conflicts among food carts, many of which are forced to compete against each other in the confined areas of the SoMa and Financial districts.
However, Caroline Grannan of Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food, said students can’t afford the high-end wares of such trucks.
Instead, they’ll likely settle on cheaper, unhealthier foods. The proximity of the food trucks would also compete financially with the San Francisco Unified School District’s lunch program, Grannan said. And she worried that Weiner’s ordinance might create stratification at schools, where poor students would feel marginalized by their inability to afford the food trucks.
School spokeswoman Heidi Anderson said the district looks forward to finding a solution that works for everyone.
Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who introduced the proposed state law earlier this month, said he would be willing to work with local groups to modify his proposal so long as it doesn’t jeopardize his goal of reducing childhood obesity and associated health risks.
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a coalition of traditional dining businesses, supports Wiener’s initiative to rescind The City’s current food truck ordinance and oppose Monning’s initiative, said its executive director, Rob Black. However, tighter regulations and rules must be established for the food carts before the association backs Wiener’s 500-foot plan, he said.
150: Approximate number of mobile food vendors in SF
1,500 feet: Distance vendors must keep from public middle and high schools
500: Proposed distance for vendors from public middle and high schools
Source: Supervisor Scott Wiener, Off the Grid