If you're a Financial District worker who has been dying a slow death of salad and bland soup consumption ever since you started working down there, you were probably thrilled to find fun and interesting food trucks parked down the block from your office in recent months. But if you own one of the longstanding businesses in and around the District where you sell overpriced sandwiches, salad, and soup to the captive and hungry hordes, paying a premium in rent for the privilege, you're probably not too happy about these food trucks. Hence the quandary that the city is in right now, having been hip to the zeitgeist in loosening food truck regulations so that more could swarm downtown and make the populace happy, but also owing something to the brick-and-mortar business owners who've been paying lots of rent, permits, and taxes over the years.
This week saw two articles, one by Jonathan Kauffman in SF Weekly and one on SF Gate's City Insider blog, on the topic, following what Kauffman describes as an "acrimonious showdown" last week between truck operators and downtown business owners at the City Board of Appeals. A coalition of downtown business owners have lawyered themselves up and gone after the city for issuing all these permits willy-nilly. It sounds like the Appeals board is going to push the Supervisors to once again tighten food truck regs earlier this year it became possible for trucks to get a cheaper permit for specific locations from the DPW and quicker Health Dept. signoff, via a new ordinance spearheaded by Bevan Dufty. But is this fair? As Kasa Indian Eatery owner (and operator of their Kati Roller truck) Anamika Khanna rightly points out, the public wants what the public wants. "There is an oversaturation of one type of food: sandwiches, soups, and salad," she says, and the reason the food trucks are so popular is because people have been dying for other options.
Earlier this year, a restaurant/cafe called Harvest and Rowe (55 2nd Street) began a vigilante war with the JapaCurry truck, which had gotten itself a permit under the old regulations, via the police department, to park nearby. SFoodie went hog-wild with the story, and it ultimately got picked up by the Wall Street Journal as an example of this new type of turf war.
But can't all these business, mobile and immobile, get along? Shouldn't the brick-and-mortar businesses have to face such competition, a few days a week, regardless of whether the trucks pay the same kind of rent they do? We're not saying it's totally fair, but neither is a free market, and if it means the FiDi ends up with a few less crappy lunch options, so be it.
The business-minded amongst our City's leadership may not see it that way, but in any event the Kasa folks and others will be back at the Appeals board in January to defend the permits they already received.