CONCORD -- With the growing popularity of food trucks and the success of a weekly event at the Willows Shopping Center, city leaders have made it easier for mobile food vendors to set up shop in the city.
The new regulations allow one or more food vendors to operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in shopping centers, business parks and some areas downtown with a minor use permit or administrative permit.
Food trucks are banned from residential neighborhoods and must locate at least 100 feet from schools, parks, bars and restaurants. Vendors also can't serve alcohol and must have access to restrooms for employees and customers.
"This would provide the opportunity for our neighborhood shopping centers, if they wish to hold a special event similar to what the Willows has done every week -- and sometimes they do, they find this to be a really great way to drum up business -- to apply for that kind of use," said Victoria Walker, community and economic development director.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister raised a familiar concern that a proliferation of food trucks might take customers away from the city's brick-and-mortar eateries.
"I don't want this to be at the harm of our existing restaurants that have spent a lot of money putting in a business, putting in the kitchen, putting in everything that needs to be done to have a clientele there to have a property owner say, 'Well, I have another guy over here and he wants to go ahead and have his truck.'"
Supporters of the new policy believe food trucks may increase foot traffic and inject vitality into some of the city's dated commercial areas. The presence of mobile food vendors may also boost sales at nearby businesses, according to the city.
Carlyn Obringer, Planning Commission chairwoman, told the City Council that some Concord restaurateurs who also own food trucks have been traveling to Martinez or Benicia because they couldn't operate them in the city.
Since last fall, Off the Grid -- which runs food truck markets in dozens of locations across the Bay Area -- has held a Saturday afternoon event at the Willows Shopping Center. Although the contract prohibits the group from booking a burger truck (since a restaurant in the Willows has exclusive rights to sell them), the property manager believes the market helps the center because it draws visitors, said Benjamin Himlan, Off the Grid's director of business development.
"It's not necessarily about competition over customers. I don't think it's a zero-sum game," Himlan said. "I think we have the power to pull people from surrounding areas and bring them to say, downtown Concord, where otherwise they might not have necessarily gone."
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.