Sorry, I have to be a little snide about today’s smackdown at the Board of Appeals. We were there for a hearing on the infamous taco truck, which parks outside John O’Connell High School every day, in violation of a city ordinance that prohibits catering trucks from doing business within 1500 feet of a school. A slew of earnest mommies (and I include myself in that category!) spoke during public comment to urge the Board of Appeals to uphold the revocation of the truck’s permit.
Speaking in favor of letting the truck continue to violate the law were the truck’s (rather creative, judging from his interpretation of the facts) attorney, and two customers —one of whom said that the truck should be allowed to stay in its current location because, despite hiring the truck to cater his wedding celebration, it was “too inconvenient” to walk two more blocks in his South of Market neighborhood to buy a burrito from the truck. With friends like these . . .
The facts of the case are simple: In 2003, the Board of Education passed the Wellness Policy, which pledged to raise the nutritional standards of food served at San Francisco public schools and help students make healthier food choices. Four years later, after concerted advocacy from parents, policymakers and student nutrition experts, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the ordinance banning catering trucks. Why? Because once our schools banned the sale of sugary sodas, candy and high-fat, high-sodium snacks on school property, the catering trucks literally drove up to the doors of the high schools and began to tempt students with those same items.
What’s infuriating about this case is how long it has taken to actually get some action. After months of trying to work with the truck owner and simultaneously trying to get the Police Dept. to enforce the ordinance, the truck’s permit was revoked in late September of last year. Then the dance began — the truck owner filed for an appeal hearing, then filed several successful requests for postponements, allowing him to continue to do business while the hearing was pending. Finally, today, members of the SFUSD Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee got their day in court, six months after the owner’s permit was officially revoked.
And unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the City ordinance to actually be enforced. While Board President Frank Fung gets a gold star for pointing out how long the truck owner has managed to delay the proceedings, the Board ultimately decided that the truck should get until the end of the school year to try to find a compromise location that the school district will accept, or lobby the Board of Supervisors to get the ordinance amended. The owner’s attorney claims that alternative, legal locations proposed by the SFPD are deficient for various reasons, and oh, then there’s the poor customers, who have to walk those long blocks South of Market. (It’s worth noting that the truck’s burritos, while delicious, are by no means diet food. A couple blocks’ walk might do the customers good!). Will the threat of really, truly losing their catering permit as of June 9 make a difference in the owners’ willingness to negotiate? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.