After years of having a policy that doesn’t allow food trucks in Healdsburg — save for special permitted, city approved events — the Healdsburg City Council is interested in exploring options, such as a pilot program or a city policy change, for allowing food trucks in Healdsburg.
At their Nov. 15 meeting, the council directed city staff to agendize a discussion on food trucks at a future meeting.
There was consensus among council that they’d prefer a food truck program that has a local preference policy that prioritizes local entrepreneurs and is focused in an area of town that wouldn’t take business away from local brick-and-mortar restaurants.
“We do have a policy right now that allows food trucks at city-approved events, and I think what we can bring back is a couple of things. One, a summary of current policy and current practices, and also based on what we’ve heard some options for you about an enhanced, expanded policy. That could include additional events or maybe an organized event that may also include on a limited basis the ability to vend out in the public right of way outside of an event,” said Healdsburg City Manager Jeff Kay.
He said local businesses should be included in the future discussion and presentation, and the city can work on a collective outreach strategy perhaps with assistance from the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce.
Kay cautioned that this may not be resolved and decided on in just one additional meeting — it may take a while to get consensus on updates the city municipal code to allow food trucks.
The topic of food trucks first came up when Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez had asked council if they could discuss the possibility of organizing a formal food truck discussion for a future city council agenda.
“I frequently interact with people who feel like they are priced out of the downtown corridor and our restaurants. I feel like as a representative body of our whole entire community it is really important to listen to them and their needs and wants as well,” Jimenez said during the council’s Nov. 15 meeting. “That being said, I really want to show appreciation for the many restaurateurs in our community that have made this community what it is and so my intention with offering this as a discussion is at a later date to agendize this and to find what I think should be a part of our food truck policy.”
He said it is also important to ensure that downtown restaurateurs have a space that is dedicated to them.
”Our restaurateurs in the community have made substantial investments in their brick-and-mortars and so for me, it goes back to some of our other conversations where the Healdsburg Plaza is a pretty sacred place, and many people have put their whole entire lives and family into trying to build a dream—I think it is important to respect that and honor that, but I also think it is important that working class families have food options in town and having a designated area on a bimonthly basis, or whatever frequency council decides and that’s part of the consideration,” Jimenez said.
He said alternatively, they could amend the city ordinance to allow for food trucks and define where designated food truck areas would be, or they could not change the ordinance and continue with the permitting process that the city already has in place for special events.
During public comment, community members were largely in favor of allowing more food trucks in the city — citing benefits for both aspiring business owners and for Healdsburg’s low-income communities that might not be able to afford some of the restaurants that are already in town.
“I’m speaking today in favor of the operation of food trucks within the city limits of Healdsburg. We have already seen positive responses from community members at events for organizations like Healdsburg Community Services and Corazón Healdsburg that have invited food trucks from Sonoma County by creating self-sufficient businesses that benefit themselves, their families, their communities and the whole city. Currently, these entrepreneurs are being pushed to the Santa Rosa and Petaluma areas,” said local Cristal Lopez. “In low-income and Latin-American communities it is increasingly challenging and a barrier to start up a dine-in restaurant. For families, food trucks can make their going-out experience much easier and cheaper, especially when having to go out with children.”
Cecilia Gonzalez also spoke in favor of food trucks and said restaurants in Healdsburg are too expensive for “us residents.”
Another Healdsburg resident said through Lopez, who served as an interpreter, that he lives in Healdsburg and has worked in Healdsburg kitchens for 16 years and is in support of food trucks. He said there’s a need for this opportunity in town and is personally interested in a food truck opportunity. He said he’s spoken with many back-of-house cooks with talent who said they need this kind of opportunity to succeed and create in Healdsburg.
Resident Walter Niederberger also voiced support for allowing food trucks in Healdsburg and suggested a test phase or pilot food truck program.
The council too were open to exploring options for allowing food trucks in Healdsburg but had a few concerns, namely, regarding not wanting to take away business from Plaza businesses who’ve worked hard to stay open throughout the pandemic.
Councilmember Ariel Kelley said it would be good to prioritize local entrepreneurs who want to start a food truck or already have one, and to prioritize Sonoma County food trucks
“I would love to see us look at a program where we look at places within the city to actually permit a food truck park that would be a physical location that would be always for food trucks and then also looking at zones within the city that could allow them to operate that wouldn’t take away from the downtown businesses,” she said.
Councilmember David Hagele noted that there are low-cost eatery options in Healdsburg. He said his family eats out quite a bit at El Sombrero or Sumner’s Market.
“It’s not all super high end and we do find options. Whether it is affordable housing or going down the road of solutions for homelessness, I’m a local preference guy and to me that would be really important if we go down this path,” Hagele said.
He added that it irked him a bit when, during the early days of the pandemic, a food truck from Sebastopol rolled into his neighborhood to serve folks when all of the local restaurants were closed due to the pandemic.
“They set up shop and were leaving town with dollars that should have been going to the businesses that are operating, hiring and employing people locally, and that’s a big deal to me,” he said.
He said he’s not as resistant to a pilot program and would be more open to it if it wasn’t in the downtown core, ““This is something where I would be open to staff coming back with something at the community center on a monthly basis to try it out.”
Councilmember Skylaer Palacios agreed that doing food trucks in a way that is cognizant of local restaurants would be good, noting she would either want to limit it to events or limit the number of food trucks allowed with local preference.
Mayor Evelyn Mitchell agreed with her fellow council members on the ideas and concerns listed thus far, and also echoed the desire for a local preference policy. She opined that it would be good to reach out to local restaurants to help the council weigh in on what a local food truck policy or program could look like.
A discussion about food trucks will return to a future council meeting, and Mitchell said she felt like there wasn’t a rush to get to it since the city has many other goals and items prioritized. She said this might be a good spring item or an item to discuss during the council’s goal setting in the new year.