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Food Truck Market Draws Complaints In Downtown San Diego

Photo by Tarryn Mento

This block of J Street is closed each Thursday afternoon until 10 p.m. for a food truck market.

They typically draw smiles and crowds, but food trucks in downtown San Diego are drawing complaints. Restaurant owners in the Gaslamp District say a mobile eatery market is moving in on their turf, but the City of San Diego says it's permitted to be there.

When Perri Spiller saw a sign announcing a weekly food truck market in downtown San Diego, she was furious.

By Tarryn Mento

Perri Spiller is the manager of Dick's Last Resort in downtown San Diego's Gaslamp District.

By Tarryn Mento

Christian Murcia is the owner of Curbside Bites, which organizes the Thursday food truck market in downtown San Diego.

"And was blown away with that happening knowing that there was unhappy businesses here, 'cause I also was speaking on behalf of other businesses on this area of the Gaslamp," said Spiller, manager for Dick's Last Resort in the historic Gaslamp District.

Spiller said she and other area eateries had already been complaining to the city's code enforcement about two food trucks that frequented the corner near her front door.

"I finally got a case number, felt like I was moving forward, and I came to work one Friday and an employee had asked me if I had seen what was on the corner outside our other door," she said.

That's when she saw a sign that applies to a one-block section of J Street: No parking, Special Event. Every Thursday. April to December. The city-approved special event would shut down the street -- and its parking spots -- each week from 2 to 10 p.m.

But because of its regular occurrence, people like Gary Smith question whether the food truck market should've even been approved in the first place.

"There's been a plethora of things coming out of Special Events that are not really special events," he said.

Smith is on the Downtown Parking Management Group. He argues that one-off events -- like a parade -- are a special event, but a weekly occurrence is not.

"The special event charge that the city charges is a one-off fee, whether it's one day or whether it's 52 weeks," he said.

That one-off fee is a $150 permit charge. Smith said he thinks it's a loophole that's being taken advantage of by the food truck market organizer, Curbside Bites. But Director of Special Events Carolyn Wormser said the one-off fee is part of the city's policy.

"If the event is the same week after week in terms of how it's laid out and what its components are, the city will issue a permit on an annual basis," she said.

Wormser said the permit applicant does have to pay the $150 fee each year. In this case, that'd be Christian Murcia, owner of Curbside Bites. He said the food truck market has the community's support, and said he's got a petition to prove it.

"In one week alone, we've gotten almost 600 signatures from the community, and they love it. And they really are supportive of it and think of it as a way as like, 'Yeah, why not? These are small business owners and they deserve to have a place here too,'" he said.

But Special Events Director Wormser acknowledged the historical debate over food trucks in San Diego, and said they're working on it.

"We have had a meeting with the council president and some members of the community as well as the restaurant association to discuss food trucks in general, as well as this event," she said.

Gary Smith is also working on it. On the agenda for today's Downtown Parking Management Group meeting: a letter he wrote regarding special permits for food trucks downtown.

And back in the Gaslamp District, Spiller said she did eventually get a response about her initial complaint of the food trucks coming around on the weekends. She was told that the city's code enforcement services don't regulate food trucks on public streets, only privately owned commercial property.

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