By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Food trucks will be coming to town if the Keizer City Council approves a recommendation that passed the city’s planning commission last week.

Commissioners engaged in a marathon three-hour meeting Wednesday, June 8, that included discussion of issues related to permitting, signage, hours of operation, and what would constitute a “pod,” or cluster of food trucks, which triggers another set of regulations.

“This is the kind of use that can create a lot of problems. But I think what we are going to pass is good stuff, and we’re not taking too much of a mother-may-I giant step that would get us into trouble,” said Commissioner Jim Jacks.

Before taking affect, the Keizer City Council will need to approve the recommendation – and hold a public hearing –  which may not happen until late July or August, said City Attorney Shannon Johnson.

Currently, a mobile food vendor can only operate in the city for up to a 90 days in any one year period.    

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Commissioners were able to clear up some matters speedily. They agreed with city staff recommendations that: any non-permanent truck, van, or trailer that has been outfitted to to prepare and serve food would be considered a “mobile food vendor;” vendors would be issued annual permits without any limits on the number of days of operation; vendors must operate on hard-surface areas that meet off-street parking requirements; the vehicles and/or trailers cannot obstruct public right-of-ways, driveways or pedestrian paths; vendors would be responsible for litter produced by their business or customers; vendors would only be permitted in areas zoned for commercial mixed use (limiting them largely to River Road Road and Cherry Avenue Northeast); hours of operation would be between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily; and that vendors must comply with the city’s environmental codes.

The last point was a topic of some discussion after finding out that Marion County Public Health Department has ongoing issues with some vendors disposing of waste water and grease in storm drains and sewers.

While city officials will have the authority to issue fines of up to $500 per day for illegal disposal, Keizer Development Director Nate Brown admitted they are rarely used.

“In one recent case, our code enforcement officer received a report of a restaurant dumping grease in a storm drain and we issued a stern warning, but it hasn’t risen to the level of a fine as yet,” Brown said.

More than two vendors within a single area will constitute a pod. While the number of vendors constituting a pod sparked some debate, commissioners took into account testimony from Farmers Insurance Agent Brandon Bay, who serves several clients operating food trucks.

“The future of the food trucks are the pods,” said Bay, noting that clusters of vendors in one area result in more varied offerings and can help brick-and-mortar businesses. “Barrel and Keg in Salem can offer alcohol because of the food trucks in the rear of the business.”

Staff had recommended that more than one vendor on a single site should be considered a pod.

Vendor pods will also be required to have permanent, covered dining spaces able to withstand the elements. Commissioners chose not to impose specific standards, but all such structures would need to comply with related building codes.

The lion’s share of the meeting was devoted to sign codes and where mobile food vendors, who often have signage all over their vehicles and trailers, would fall under existing regulations. Brick-and-mortar businesses are allotted a certain number of square feet for a sign based on the physical size of the business.

Vendors will have no signage limits on their food trucks and trailers provided that they move every day. In addition, vendors will have an additional six square feet for sandwich-board, A-frame signs near their vehicles. They will also be able to negotiate with owners of the property on which they’ve leased space for use of feather flags, but the number of flags is limited to one per 50 feet of frontage overall.

All sandwich signs and feather flags will need to be taken down when the vendors are not in operation.

For a brick-and-mortar establishment, sandwich-style signs limited to 120 days per year unless they are positioned at the entrance of the business.

In addition to Bay, two other individuals testified during the public hearing at the meeting.

Keizer resident Rhonda Rich opposed allowing food trucks.

“We should support the storefronts we have and encourage occupancy in the currently vacant buildings along River Road,” Rich said. “We are not a large city and I feel the impact of the (of mobile food vendors) in large cities is understudied.”

Commissioners also heard from Tina Schneider, a board member of the Oregon Food Truck Association and owner of her own mobile food business, Cacioppo’s.

Schneider said the food trucks that are part of the association, based in Salem, are trying to set standards above the minimum requirements for operation.

“We regulate ourselves as much as possible, and we try to stay involved with the communities where we operate. When I do fundraisers with schools and churches and community organizations, I usually end up donating more than $1,000 per event,”  Schneider said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to forward the recommendation to the city council.


Food truck complaints no worse than those for brick-and-mortars

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

As the city council prepares to consider allowing food trucks to operate longer than the standard 90 days allotted to such enterprises, questions came up during the planning commission hearing last week about how other cities are handling the issue.

At the forefront of concerns was whether mobile food vendors are the subject of more complaints than the average brick-and-mortar. The answer is “no,” said Richard Sherman, program supervisor of environmental health and safety at the Marion County Health Department (MCHD).

“There are simply fewer food trucks around than there are brick-and-mortar restaurants. We also get more complaints about the brick-and-mortars because people are usually sitting down and they have more time to notice things,” Sherman said. “For the most part we don’t see huge numbers (of complaints regarding food trucks), but there are bad actors.”

MCHD fields the complaints and provides inspections for the mobile food vendors licensed in the county. In the case of bad actors, Sherman said continuous complaints are typically turned over to municipalities after repeated violations and fines are levied.

“In most cases, complaints come from food not being kept warm or cold enough, or because the operators don’t look clean,” Sherman said.

Members of the Keizer Planning Commission worried about illegal dumping of grease and waste water, but Sherman said it isn’t a common occurrence.

Aaron Panko, a City of Salem planner, said Keizer’s neighbor to the south has about 27 mobile food vendors licensed to serve food in the city. Prior to MCHD taking over the health inspections, code enforcers kept tabs on the vendors.

“Our compliance officers inspected mobile food units every six months for compliance with zoning requirements, basically to see if they were operating where they were licensed to operate,” Panko said.

Prior to approving the changes that allowed food truck in the city, Panko said city officials heard from both sides of the issue.

“The primary concern was that mobile food units have a lower operating cost which allows them to compete on an unfair playing field and potentially harm brick-and-mortar restaurants,” Panko said. “On the other hand, we had several people testify in favor of the new regulations who wanted to see more diverse food options in Salem. Mobile food unit operators wanted more flexibility on where they could operate and wanted to be able to form pods with other mobile food units.”