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To vend or not to vend?
Battle between downtown Y.C. businesses, mobile sellers goes back to City Council
The debate over taco trucks, fruit stands and hot dog carts is not over yet in Yuba City.
The City Council will take on mobile vending again Tuesday, when members are presented with the progress of recent discussions between city staff, mobile vendors, "brick and mortar" businesses and the Downtown Business Association.
The update, presented by Community Development Director Aaron Busch, will identify the issues, alternatives and regulation preferences that have been debated in recent months.
Council members can give feedback and give direction on the type of ordinance they want prepared.
"It's been a fun and lively discussion," Busch said. "There may not be a full middle ground to reach on this because you have opposite ends of the spectrum."
The goal is to create a mobile vending ordinance that is clearly defined and has easy-to-read standards and regulations so vendors and brick and mortar businesses know what to expect, Busch said. "They all want what's best for the community," he said.
The biggest challenge was establishing what vendors contribute to the city, Busch said.
They can meet a need, provide food diversity and establish options for underserved areas, such as industrial or office parks. And if a vendor establishes a good following, the mobile business can attract customers to other area businesses.
But vendors also have an advantage over brick and mortars because they have less capital costs, less investment and can offer comparable products for less money.
The debate was sparked this summer when Fat Daddy's Frankfurters set up a hot dog cart across from Has Beans on Plumas Boulevard. It drew attention to conflicting city codes and the overall challenges faced by mobile vendors and established businesses.
Has Beans partner Margaret Danna said she was never against mobile vending.
"They do have something to contribute to a community and can make it an enjoyable place, but to be fair, they need to be regulated," she said. "They need to look at how one business opening affects another, even if it is a vendor."
Has Beans knew when it opened that only a small amount of retail was allowed in that part of Yuba City, and mobile vendors were prohibited, which was important because of limited customers and foot traffic. When Fat Daddy's came — and it could have been a taco truck or sandwich wagon or any other business, Danna said — she lost a lot of customers, had to layoff employees and cut hours.
"We are not against competition, and walking business is really good for us," she said. "But guidelines need to be here for a reason."
Danna would like to see mobile vendors meet the same standards as established businesses, such as holding set hours, sitting through slow times and not just peak hours, and operating rain or shine.
The cities people have pointed to as evidence for where mobile vendors thrive, such as Chicago and New York, have strict regulations and some charge nonstationary businesses fees akin to fixed establishments, she said.
"It will be interesting to see what the City Council decides to do with it," Danna said. "The city has a lot to gain from vending businesses, the same gains they get from brick and mortars."
Paul Kaiser, owner of Fat Daddy's, understands concerns related to mobile vendors, but when cities govern and manage too much, it stifles free enterprise, he said.
If the council enacts an ordinance based on discussions he's been a part of, mobile vending may not be allowed on public property, Kaiser said. Vendors would need permission from a private property owner and must get approval from similar businesses in a certain radius.
"If McDonald's wants to open across from Carl's Jr., they don't go over to Carl's Jr. and ask them if it's all right," Kaiser said. "Any rational person knows nine times out of 10 nobody is going to say 'Yeah, come and open up.'"
If the city takes that approach, any new restaurant should have to ask for nearby vendors' approval, he said.
"If it's going to be good for the goose, make it good for the gander," he said.
Kaiser is happy to stay at his new location near Plumas Boulevard and Franklin Road, if possible. He does not earn as much, but is doing well and will soon open a small storefront near Civic Center Drive and Colusa Highway.
He hopes whatever ordinance is finally adopted is good for everyone.
"Hopefully, it will make it better for the next guy to come along and street vend," Kaiser said. "And that's been my goal all along."
In August, the council authorized agreements for temporary vending permits for Fat Daddy's and Fotine's Simply Greek Cafe. The permit is for one year or until the council makes its final decision on mobile vending.
The businesses were offered three options for locations, all of which included the specification that it will be necessary to obtain written approval from any similar business that sells food within a 400-foot radius.