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Study determines food-truck regulations insensible

SDSU students measure foot traffic and decibel levels for facts

A group of students from San Diego State University, inspired by a social science course, gave a closer look at the newly proposed food-truck regulations set to go before the city council on March 3.

In a nutshell, the six students (Zachary Isaac Clark, Bennet Smith, Jordan Zimmer, Everett Wolf, Jose Moreno ­Pinete, and Nathalie Goudy) found that the regulations won't sit well, not only for patrons and foodies, but for city staff who will essentially be forced to sift through more than 2000 permit applications each year.

For their study, they addressed three questions: Do the trucks really clog up the sidewalks in areas such as the Gaslamp? Do food-truck patrons really cause enough of a ruckus to ban them from operating past 11 p.m. near popular bars and nightspots? And, what kind of burden will the permitting process have on city staff?

To answer the first question, the crew camped out on Fifth Avenue between J Street and Island Avenue in the Gaslamp during the hours of 6 to 8 p.m. One night was spent counting foot traffic without a truck present and the following night with one serving food.

"[T]he presence of a food truck on Fifth Avenue does not create or exacerbate sidewalk congestion by pedestrians in the Gaslamp District of Downtown San Diego. Although the amount of pedestrian traffic increased 10 [percent] between Friday to Saturday night, the amount of time it took a pedestrian to traverse that side of the block did not increase whatsoever," reads the study.

For the next course, the students set out with a decibel reader between midnight and 2 a.m., when bars close and when patrons are at their loudest.

The study confirmed it was louder on the street when a food truck was parked on the street — though, not by much and the sound didn't carry far.

"The data revealed that a food truck increases the ambient noise level by approximately 6 percent with the average for Saturday night being 80 dB, as opposed to 75.33 dB on Friday night when no food truck is present. Any additional ambient noise associated with a food truck’s presence, however, dissipated only a short distance away from the truck. On Saturday night, we recorded a decibel level of 73.67 when standing only 25 feet from the truck. This is lower than the average level of ambient noise that we measured when no food truck was present (75.33 dB)."

Lastly, the students looked at how burdensome the regulations might be for city staff. They did so by estimating the number of trucks and locations where they can park and the number of permits that would be needed to do so. Then they looked at numbers from a local caterer for information on how many property owners would need to file permits to host the trucks.

“Our calculations show that private property owners would have to acquire approximately 2,350 permits in "order for the food trucks to operate at the locations they currently frequent. Estimating that City employees would have to spend on average four hours to process a typical permit application and regulate the truck, these permits would take up 9,400 hours of time by City officials. Put another way, the mobile permit requirement, if implemented, would take up the time of five full­-time City employees."

Food-truck owners are lauding the study.

"Food truck operators have been urging the city to show concrete evidence of public safety issues caused by food trucks, since this is the reason provided for the proposed regulations. Food truck operators view the proposed regulations as anti-competitive and discriminatory," was the statement from Christian Murcia, who is heading up the fight against the proposal.

The fight, however, will be an uphill battle for Murcia and other mobile foodies. Interim-mayor Todd Gloria has said the rules are sensible and necessary so as not to jeopardize public safety.

As previously reported by the Reader, Gloria took to the media in an effort to dispel rumors that the intent of the ordinance was to ban trucks from city streets:

"Food trucks help add character to San Diego’s neighborhoods, and creating sensible and fair rules will help ensure their impacts are only positive. The regulations being proposed were developed with extensive input from food truck operators, customers, neighbors, and restaurants, and I hope they will be approved by the City Council when we consider them on March 3."

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A group of students from San Diego State University, inspired by a social science course, gave a closer look at the newly proposed food-truck regulations set to go before the city council on March 3.

In a nutshell, the six students (Zachary Isaac Clark, Bennet Smith, Jordan Zimmer, Everett Wolf, Jose Moreno ­Pinete, and Nathalie Goudy) found that the regulations won't sit well, not only for patrons and foodies, but for city staff who will essentially be forced to sift through more than 2000 permit applications each year.

For their study, they addressed three questions: Do the trucks really clog up the sidewalks in areas such as the Gaslamp? Do food-truck patrons really cause enough of a ruckus to ban them from operating past 11 p.m. near popular bars and nightspots? And, what kind of burden will the permitting process have on city staff?

To answer the first question, the crew camped out on Fifth Avenue between J Street and Island Avenue in the Gaslamp during the hours of 6 to 8 p.m. One night was spent counting foot traffic without a truck present and the following night with one serving food.

"[T]he presence of a food truck on Fifth Avenue does not create or exacerbate sidewalk congestion by pedestrians in the Gaslamp District of Downtown San Diego. Although the amount of pedestrian traffic increased 10 [percent] between Friday to Saturday night, the amount of time it took a pedestrian to traverse that side of the block did not increase whatsoever," reads the study.

For the next course, the students set out with a decibel reader between midnight and 2 a.m., when bars close and when patrons are at their loudest.

The study confirmed it was louder on the street when a food truck was parked on the street — though, not by much and the sound didn't carry far.

"The data revealed that a food truck increases the ambient noise level by approximately 6 percent with the average for Saturday night being 80 dB, as opposed to 75.33 dB on Friday night when no food truck is present. Any additional ambient noise associated with a food truck’s presence, however, dissipated only a short distance away from the truck. On Saturday night, we recorded a decibel level of 73.67 when standing only 25 feet from the truck. This is lower than the average level of ambient noise that we measured when no food truck was present (75.33 dB)."

Lastly, the students looked at how burdensome the regulations might be for city staff. They did so by estimating the number of trucks and locations where they can park and the number of permits that would be needed to do so. Then they looked at numbers from a local caterer for information on how many property owners would need to file permits to host the trucks.

“Our calculations show that private property owners would have to acquire approximately 2,350 permits in "order for the food trucks to operate at the locations they currently frequent. Estimating that City employees would have to spend on average four hours to process a typical permit application and regulate the truck, these permits would take up 9,400 hours of time by City officials. Put another way, the mobile permit requirement, if implemented, would take up the time of five full­-time City employees."

Food-truck owners are lauding the study.

"Food truck operators have been urging the city to show concrete evidence of public safety issues caused by food trucks, since this is the reason provided for the proposed regulations. Food truck operators view the proposed regulations as anti-competitive and discriminatory," was the statement from Christian Murcia, who is heading up the fight against the proposal.

The fight, however, will be an uphill battle for Murcia and other mobile foodies. Interim-mayor Todd Gloria has said the rules are sensible and necessary so as not to jeopardize public safety.

As previously reported by the Reader, Gloria took to the media in an effort to dispel rumors that the intent of the ordinance was to ban trucks from city streets:

"Food trucks help add character to San Diego’s neighborhoods, and creating sensible and fair rules will help ensure their impacts are only positive. The regulations being proposed were developed with extensive input from food truck operators, customers, neighbors, and restaurants, and I hope they will be approved by the City Council when we consider them on March 3."

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In other words: The proposed food-truck regulations serve no purpose other than making it more difficult and more costly for food-truck operators; the only point of the regulations is that operators of brick-and-mortar restaurants want to increase the burdens on their food-truck competitors.

We already knew that, though.

Feb. 27, 2014

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