Cathedral City welcomes food trucks, faces challenges valley-wide

Cathedral City welcomes food trucks, faces challenges valley-wide

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. - The food truck debate rolls on in the Coachella Valley. After the county lifted major restrictions on the mobile vendors in April, valley cities have mulled their own rules. While there's still a number of city councils that have no decided, Cathedral City is welcoming food trucks with open arms.

The city's ordinance goes into effect on July 11, and is being called "favorable" and "supportive" by supporters of the food truck industry. But even with the support, there's still some major speed bumps ahead.

For more than 20 years, La Bella Cucina has served up Italian food out of its space in Palm Desert. Now, owner Tony Riccio says it's time to put his product on wheels. He's looking at opening a food truck after Riverside county lifted many of its restrictions in April. "We can get out there, three, four, five, six miles away from the brick-and-mortar and make business," said Riccio.

Under the county ordinance, trucks must undergo and pass inspections by county health officials and obtain annual permits. Trucks will also be graded on a letter system like restaurants. The ordinance also gives cities the leeway to add their own restrictions.

Palm Desert, the first valley city to take food trucks on, put a 750-foot buffer zone around existing restaurants. The rules would put El Paseo and Highway 111 off limits according to maps drawn up by the city's planning department. The restrictions also keep trucks 1,500 feet away from schools. There are also restrictions on when food trucks can operate: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or 7 p.m. May 1 through Sept. 30.

Supporters of the food truck industry objected to the strict guidelines, saying it could hinder bringing a desirable industry to the valley.

"A lot of people come from areas where there are a lot of food trucks and they understand the caliber of food that's produced in a food truck," said Michael Fietsam, the director of client services at ShareKitchen in Cathedral City.

ShareKitchen is a non-profit, incubator for culinary entrepreneurs according to Fietsam. Its helped push the food truck initiative and even held classes for hopeful food truck operators.

Also under the county ordinance, truck operators are required to go through a commissary to store supplies and food. ShareKitchen's looking to build the first in Riverside County if the business is there.

"We certainly wouldn't want to build a huge facility and then have the food trucks move out in a couple of months, so the ordinances the cities pass are as important as the individual commissary itself," said Fietsam.

Cathedral City's ordinance, passed in June, is the most favorable for food truck operators so far. It welcomes trucks on public streets and only places restrictions around schools when class is in session. With the city's ordinance about to go into effect on July 11, there's still concern from some of the city's brick-and-mortar restaurants.

"I think we're all citizens and we're all voters," said Miguel Hurtado, the owner of La Tablita and Dragon Sushi in Cathedral City. "So somehow, that's not fair for all of us."

Riccio disagrees. He believes it's exactly what the community wants. "It's only best for the cities," said Riccio. "People are looking for it, my clients are looking for it."

Other cities in the valley are also looking at ordinances. Indian Wells is considering some major restrictions on food trucks, along the same lines of Palm Desert.

Palm Springs has put a temporary moratorium on trucks not at special events, until September.

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