Keep on food truckin’

Peoria plans to update rules on mobile units

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The food truck has become a backdrop of the Peoria landscape, with mobile cooks peddling everything from street tacos to shaved ice.

The growth has been undeniable with approved permits to operate mobile food units, more commonly known as food trucks, increasing every year since fiscal year 2014, according to Maricopa County Environmental Services Department.

This amounts to a nearly 250% increase since then.

The city of Peoria is responding  to the increase by updating its regulations to comply with new state rules and to ensure its laws adequately address changing trends in use and the small business landscape, said Planning Manager Lorie Dever.

In the coming year, city staff is planning to bring updated regulations on food trucks before the city council.

She said mobile vendors are an increasingly prevalent and desired in commercial and employment areas.

Mobile vendors can provide needed services such as coffee, meals, and event merchandise in a location and timeframe that is convenient for many patrons. The mobile vendor format is seen as a nimble business design conducive to start-up small businesses that are still determining market demands for their goods, she said.

“The proposed regulations are intended to maintain a high quality of life for residents without unduly restricting private enterprise or innovation in design, all while reducing hazards to the public, which might result from the inappropriate location, use, or design of buildings or other uses,” Ms. Dever said.

But some food truck vendors wonder if new regulations will be beneficial to operating in Peoria -- and if rising permit costs will scare some vendors away from Peoria.

Desmond Martin, owner of mobile business Happy Honu Shaved Ice, said his small business has been in operation and steadily growing for the last three years, all with absolutely zero regrets.

He has, however, taken some of his business out of Peoria because obtaining a temporary use permit for frequent parking at specific locations is out of his price range.

He said there have been a small number of new trucks setting up within the city limits that do not adhere to the city’s temporary usage permit policies.

“I’ve personally asked one owner and he said he’s met with city employees to go over fees — which he also confirmed were high — and when he agreed to their terms, they ‘backed off,’ and haven’t reached out or visited him since,” Mr. Martin said.

“I guess my personal opinion is that it seems Peoria is willing to make exceptions for certain trucks, allowing them to park without paying the permit fees. I wish we could have the liberty of setting up in a spot, pay for our Peoria business license, pay our taxes, and be left alone.

“It’s so unclear to me what policies are mandated and how much bending I must do to operate in Peoria.”

Ms. Dever did not respond to an inquiry about permit costs.

Joe’s Tacos, a food truck located near Grand and Olive avenues, has been operating since 2016. Owner Joe Sanchez said he has experienced considerable growth since then, recently purchasing a bigger vehicle to keep up with the demand.

He said it’s not uncommon to have a 30-minute wait on Saturdays.

The new truck handles more food, while the smaller truck is being put to work at events and catering, he said.

Legislation has changed over the last two years as to what regulations cities and counties can place on food trucks.

In May 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2371 into law, commonly known as the Food Truck Freedom bill. The bill amended Arizona law to establish a clear definition of a “mobile food unit,” and outline the scope of municipal powers to regulate mobile vending, and establish annual licensing requirements through the Arizona Department of Health.

Prior to the new state regulations, food trucks were subject to operating rules and licensing requirements that differed by locality.

Since the changes in legislation, the city has made a cross departmental effort to work on updating the ordinance that addresses food trucks, Ms. Dever said.

“We have been streamlining processes and benchmarking across what other cities do,” Ms. Dever said. “There has been lot of coordination behind the scenes which is why it has taken a while.”

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, phaldiman@newszap.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

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