The Visalia City Council wants to seize on the food truck movement before it passes the city by. During its February 5 work session the council discussed two overlay districts for food trucks similar to the micro-brewery district approved in 2016.
The two food truck overlay districts would be in the Industrial Park and in East downtown. The districts would reduce the restrictions currently placed on food trucks.
Because there are very few eating establishments in the Visalia Industrial Park, the councilmembers accepted the staff report for that area with little feedback or changes.
The council’s primary concern was the Main Street brick and mortar restaurants. Councilmember Steve Nelsen said that if a restaurant sells a gourmet hamburger for one price, then half a block away a food truck sells the same hamburger for less, the restaurant will lose business.
Food trucks have a much lower overhead than do restaurants, and would have an unfair advantage according to Nelsen.
Currently, food trucks are considered a convenient source to grab lunch and they can only stay in one spot for 10 or 15 minutes. Gail Zurek, CEO of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, said that the in-and-out quick vend is over and that it takes specialized food trucks more than 20 minutes just to set up.
Zurek emphasized that creating a overlay district would bring in a new dynamic to Visalia and give the residents the same sort of advantages as residents from big cities.
After the presentation by Visalia Senior Planner, Andy Chamberlain, council members had concerns over enforcement, hours of operation, the district’s boundaries, and the proximity to established restaurants.
In terms of proximity, the consensus was to extend the staff suggested limit from 150 feet to at least 300 feet away from a brick and mortar establishment.
Council member Phil Cox wasn’t in favor of any type of overlay district for food trucks.
He said that many restaurants are still recovering from the 2008 recession, and that even 300 feet away would only extend one block.
Cox preferred the Tulare County ordinance that is a simple time limit on food trucks versus a special district.
Cox also said the current Visalia ordinance is difficult to enforce as he sees many possible violations at the Houston Market that go unchecked.
Chamberlain said that enforcement would be complaint driven, as they do not have the staff to enforce the new or old ordinance.
Nelsen suggested that the staff come back to the council with more a finished product for the downtown overlay district and to incorporate the council’s concerns. If the council agrees on a possible overlay district for food trucks the issue will then go through the public hearing process.
Micro-Brewery Ordinance Discussed
In September of 2016 the Visalia City Council voted to create a micro-brewery overlay district in East downtown Visalia. The goal was to lure business to the district by reducing the red tape and restrictions and to capture some of the tourism dollars going to the Sequoias.
The special district allowed micro-breweries and micro-wineries to start a business without having to obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) as do traditional bars. These businesses would also be welcoming to minors and be exempt from the customer age limit.
Since the adoption of the Brewery Overlay District, Barrelhouse Brewing Company has set up at 521 E Main Street and has become a popular family-friendly establishment.
But concerns have now been raised about the brewing company’s Type 23 License. The license allows minors on the property even though there is alcohol served.
Normally establishments that predominantly serve alcohol cannot allow anyone under 21 years old on the premise.
The Barrelhouse is the first and only business to have a Type 23 license in Visalia, and the police said they have no experience in dealing with it.
Nevertheless, the police officer giving the presentation to the council said that 57 fights were reported next to drinking establishments and that this type of atmosphere is not appropriate for minors. The officer added that it would be very easy for minors to get alcohol at the Barrelhouse and that they would be socializing with intoxicated customers.
The officer said that establishments similar to the Barrelhouse have a Type 48 license such as the Green Olive and the Pump House and do not allow anyone under 21 years old. The Visalia Police Department recommended a type 48 license for the brewery overlay district also.
Councilmember Greg Collins agreed saying that if the only reason to go to a micro-brewery is to drink craft beer then no one under 21 should be there. Mayor Warren Gubler didn’t understand why a parent would take their kids into such an establishment in the first place.
Gubler said he was inclined to do what was is in the best interest of the child even if it hurt the business.
Jason Carvalho, owner of the Barrelhouses in Paso Robles and Visalia, attempted to educate the council on micro-breweries.
He said that the Barrelhouse is a family-oriented business that has never had any problems with minors drinking. They provide sodas, food and a game room for minors.
To avoid any trouble with intoxicated adults they close their businesses at 10:00.
He said in Paso Robles there have been more problems at Star Bucks than at their brewery.
In addition, the Barrelhouse is a music venue and many musicians who come through their establishment are not 21.
The brewery wanted to be a venue where young adults could play music and be supported by their family and siblings, which would not be possible without the micro-brewery overlay district.
Zurek said that the main reason for creating the micro-brewery overlay district in the first place was to increase tourism and attract businesses to East Main Street such as the Barrelhouse. Adding restrictions defeats the entire purpose of the district she said.
Zurek said that professionals, locals, and visitors, want a place where they can sit and drink a craft beer while their kids pay shuffle board outside.
She also reminded the council that many establishments serve beer where children are present such as Chucky Cheese, the Adventure Park, Roller Town, Rawhide, Galaxy Theaters, and the bowling alley.
Joel Moore, a native Visalian, wanted to give a young person’s perspective and told the council that minors are not going to go drink at a family-friendly establishment. Rather, they are going to pay the homeless person outside of 7-11 to get them a six pack.
Vice Mayor Bob Link said that he got “really tired of the government telling him what he can and can’t do” when he owned his business downtown. He said it creates an unhealthy business environment. He believes that parents aren’t going to take their kids to a bar, and as long as it’s a family-friendly emphasis, the city should not impose any restrictions on the overlay district.
Link said the council should wait until there is an issue before considering changing the ordinance.
Cox said that after listening to both sides he “had changed his mind a little bit” and was happy to hear that the Barrelhouse is providing a venue where young bands can play their music.
Cox was in favor of the micro-brewery overlay district keeping the Type 23 license but wanted each business to obtain a CUP with the requirement that the breweries serve food and sodas.
The motion was put to a vote and passed 4-1 with Link voting no.