Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CityWatchLA - Food for Thought on LA’s Food Truck Controversy

CityWatch, Aug 10, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 63

LA City Council's Transportation Committee is poised to approve two motions that will direct nine City Departments and "all affected" Council Districts to make recommendations on the restriction of catering trucks. This will set in motion a series of unintended consequences, all while continuing the City Council tradition of attacking symptoms while ignoring systemic failures.

On the one hand, the Transportation Committee is to be commended for its desire to bring a minimum of 24 representatives to the table in an effort to act in concert and to address congestion and parking issues.

On the other hand, if that many people are going to be working together, it seems that the topic should be the larger systemic issue of managing our parking assets, not just reacting to the crisis du jour.

Over the last couple of years, the City Council has grappled with a series of issues that has included taxi cab parking, parking meter rates, parking meter hours, delivery vehicles, permit parking, parking variances and more. Yet the drama over on-street parking continues.

All of which demonstrates that the most contested real estate in Los Angeles is the curbside metered parking space, a simple land use management tool that has the capacity to fracture even the most tightknit of communities.

It also demonstrates a need to collect real data and to pursue win-win solutions that benefit the community and improve the quality of life for everybody. Most importantly, it offers us an opportunity to look at our streets and to make sure that they work for everybody.

There are approximately 4000 licensed catering trucks operating in LA County, but it is the recent popularity of the 200 "Specialty" trucks that has stirred controversy as they become more visible, more competitive, and more successful.

Some are independent, some are mobile expressions of traditional restaurants and some are operated by restaurateurs who develop a menu and build a clientele on the journey to a brick and mortar location.

From the State to the County to LAMC, the Food Truck industry is regulated and operators must adhere to Health Department standards and inspections, they must store their vehicles in a Commissary overnight, and they must be emptied and cleaned on a daily basis.

There are abundant regulations in place for this industry, just like all the others. To suggest that more regulation and restriction in support of "the intent of those parking meter spaces" is a solution to congestion and conflict is folly.

The problem with the proposed motions is simple; they fail to seize this as an opportunity to address the many conflicts that are part of the larger curbside parking issue.

They also set in motion restrictions that will have unintended consequences while missing the opportunity to work affirmatively to facilitate and support our communities, our businesses and our economy. For example:

1) One of the largest economic generators in the City of Los Angeles is the movement of goods, resulting in thousands of trucks moving through the region at all hours. Yet, there is no place to park an 18 Wheeler in LA.

The sight of trucks parked on Hollywood Boulevard stirs no response from the LADOT or the LAPD or the Council Office, after all, the operators need their sleep and they contribute to the economy.

The fact that some trucks stay for days on arterials throughout the city demonstrates a systemic failure to accommodate an integral element of our economy and a systemic failure to enforce existing prohibitions.

2) One of the most significant solutions to traffic congestion is a mass transit system that works, resulting in buses that need to park on layover throughout the city. Yet, where does one park a bus?

The sight of buses parked in the red on Hollywood Boulevard stirs no response from the Metro or the City of LA, demonstrating a systemic failure to accommodate a transportation solution.

It also demonstrates contempt for the local community as some neighborhoods are turned into industrial zone layover yards.

3) One of the simplest solutions to limited parking opportunities for business and restaurants is valet parking, resulting in less vehicles parked on the street and enhanced convenience for patrons. Yet, where do these vehicles all go?

The city has long fumbled the parking data base that would create a system of accountability, but with no oversight, the abuses are rampant.

From variances offered to multiple businesses, all claiming the same exclusive use of a parking lot, to valets that use metered (disabled) parking and neighborhood streets to park vehicles, to commandeered curbside parking for storage, the abuses are rampant and the failure to regulate is systemic.

4) One of the most common transportation system enhancements in a large city is a taxi cab system that works, resulting in two scenarios; taxi cabs that sit idle in taxi zones while waiting for fares or taxis that cruise the neighborhood looking for fares.

In either case, the city regulates and accommodates, accepting the fact that dedicated curbside parking space is essential if the taxis are to be visible.

This commitment to the viability of the taxi industry is unmatched with a commitment for regulation and enforcement, resulting in trashed taxi zones and neighborhood concentrations of idle taxis. The regulations are in place, the enforcement is missing.

5) One of the simplest ways to encourage the success of a commercial zone is to examine the needs of a community and then to accommodate and support the many elements.

Mortuaries typically have very specific needs for short term parking and staging, needs that the LAPD and the LADOT and City Planning accept.

Tour Buses need to be visible and accessible to the tourists who come from all over the world and the City of LA provides curbside parking in the most popular of commercial zones, supporting Tourism and enhancing the experience of LA's guests.

Local merchants depend on convenient shipping and FedEx and UPS enjoy curbside parking, even during rush hour, as they pickup and deliver from merchants throughout LA's commercial zones.

The commitment to supporting the many elements of a vibrant commercial zone are there, they are just inconsistent.

There's no doubt that our streets are congested or that the conflict between user groups is an important opportunity to come together as a community.

Parking has become such a hot topic that UCLA's Dr. Shoup wrote a 600 page book on the topic and it not only became a best-seller, he literally became a Parking Rock Star and went on tour.

City's such as Pasadena have developed innovations that have revitalized their communities, resulting in a park-once valet system that serves the entire commercial zone.

The City of LA is surrounded by experts such as Shoup, Mott Smith, and Ryan Snyder, all of whom have engaged in community specific parking solutions that benefit all and maximize efficiency and revenue. Ignoring the experts, the City continues to fumble, failing to account for its parking meters, for its off-street parking assets, for taxi and valet oversight, and for a comprehensive plan for parking oversized vehicles that are a part of LA's transportation infrastructure.

LA's Transportation Committee is at a fork in the road, it can proceed with a directive to restrict Food Trucks from commercial zones or it can pursue the larger systemic issue and embrace a solution that is good for everybody.

The opportunity here is for the City of LA to move from a complaint driven system to a standards driven system.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

1 comment:

ddplmr said...

The issue of effective mass transit in a city as sprawling as L.A. is daunting. I have two suggestions that I think would help greatly.

The first is to open up the mass transit system to allow private bus companies to operate anywhere in the city. When this has been done in other cities it's often seen that the buses become smaller and more numerous, covering much larger areas. It also brings in middle income riders and expands ridership as a whole. And by creating a much larger network it enables long-distance commuters to make local connections that they cannot make now, expanding that service as well. This would not need to change the current low income public transportation that would still cover the same routes.

The second suggestion is to open up the taxi system to allow anyone with a vehicle to transport people for hire. This of course would include regular vehicle inspections and safety guarantees, but no more. Ending the present cartel of cab companies by opening up this industry to anyone who could responsibly transport customers would benefit thousands of Angelenos, including those in areas where regular taxis do not like to go.

I think these two suggestions would add more choices for tens of thousands of commuters, and help to ease the huge traffic volume in the city.