Chandler taking steps to ease food-truck rules
Chandler is taking steps to become more food-truck friendly.
City officials, after meeting with industry representatives, have drafted changes to an ordinance governing mobile food units, relaxing rules that food-truck operators say are too restrictive, too costly and aren’t worth the trouble when they can simply do business in other Valley cities with less onerous requirements.
“They avoid us because of the cost and the turnaround time,’’ said Danielle Wells, Chandler’s revenue collections supervisor, who presented the proposed changes to a City Council subcommittee July 14.
“When talking to the industry, particularly the mobile food street coalition, they stay out of Chandler because they know we have too many things (required),” she said.
Those requirements currently include total costs for various fees and licenses that can reach nearly $600 for a business owner who has three employees working a truck. In addition, the truck’s owner is required to secure a $1,000 cash or surety bond. The requirements also are time consuming, such as a requirement for food-truck operators to be fingerprinted as part of a background check.
The proposal seeks to relax many of the costs and requirements in order to encourage more trucks at events in Chandler, bringing the city in line with other Valley communities that have less-restrictive rules, including Phoenix and Gilbert, which have had success with regular food-truck events.
As part of drafting the proposed changes, Chandler officials reached out to members of the Valley food-truck industry, which welcomed the effort.
“Chandler historically has been more expensive than some of the other municipalities,”’ said Brad Moore, owner of Short Leash Dogs and co-founder of the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, a group of more than 60 food-truck vendors that do business throughout the Valley. He said apart from city-sponsored events, it has been difficult for trucks to do business in the Chandler.
“It’s nice that they (the city) reached out to us and wanted to have this conversation,” Moore said.
A particular concern has been the bonding requirement, Moore said, which is intended to protect the city from out-of-town vendors who failed to pass along Chandler sales taxes that need to be collected as part of their food sales.
Moore said Chandler reached out to the coalition to talk about the changes, which he said was triggered in part by the success of a weekly food-truck event that takes place in downtown Gilbert. Moore said people in Chandler began inquiring as to how they could get something similar going in their city.
The city’s effort is occurring a few months after a regular Friday food-truck event started in Chandler near Alma School and Queen Creek roads.
Brian Denham, a Chandler resident who owns Novoa Denham Events, started the event in March at the Downtown Ocotillo shopping center. It since has moved to the Shoppers Supply store parking lot at 2880 S. Alma School Road, where it is held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays.
Denham said the idea sprung from the success of a food-truck event he organized at Tumbleweed Park two years ago called the Best Food Truck competition, where some 55 trucks participated and were judged by customers.
“I was astounded at how difficult it was to put that event on,’’ he said. “The restrictions with regard to the city code and assuring the food truck (owners) that you’ll attract people to the event.”
Denham said he was able to get the weekly Chandler event going this year after city officials worked with him within the city code.
“Food trucks were not interested in coming to Chandler because of the regulations,” Denham said. “The city, through several meetings and efforts and lots of departments, eventually found a common ground that allowed for this most popular event to be something that Chandler could be part of.”
Dawn Lang, the city’s Management Services Director, said after reviewing the event’s details, the city allowed it to be designated as a special event under a different part of the city code. The event was allowed a temporary sales and promotional event permit. Trucks only were required to obtain a sales tax license. Under rules of the special event, only trucks invited to the event are allowed and they cannot operate in any other location, Lang said.
As many as 17 trucks have been at the Friday event, and interest has been maintained through the summer, Denham said. Eleven trucks were scheduled for July 17. Denham is hoping to bring the food-truck competition back to Chandler next year after changes in the city code are adopted.
The existing city code places food trucks under the same requirements as other “transient merchants, peddlers, canvassers and solicitors.’’ The proposed changes would create a separate category for food trucks and other mobile food vendors, such as ice cream trucks. Among the proposed changes:
•Revoking the requirement that food trucks post a $1,000 cash or surety bond.
•Eliminate fees for individual licensing of the truck’s owner and all employees. Under the current rules, that would amount to $350 for the owner and three employees. Chandler would retain a $150 charge for an initial application and license for the business itself.
•Eliminate the requirement for a passport photo and ID badge.
•Eliminate the need for fingerprinting of business owners, making for a quicker turnaround. Background checks still would be required. The cost would go from $40 to $10.
• Eliminate the requirement for food-handler cards for all workers. Trucks still would be required to have a county health permit to operate.
•Allow food trucks with written permission of property owner on paved surfaces and allow food trucks to regularly use the space. However, trucks would not have exclusive rights to any one location. Currently, trucks can operate immediately adjacent to an occupied building where it is invited, such as over the lunch hour at a corporate campus, but otherwise cannot stay in place in one spot for more than 15 minutes unless part of a special event. The change would make it easier for groups such as youth sports leagues to invite food trucks to events at city parks or other locations.
•The requirement for a $50 sales tax license and no-cost fire inspection will remain in place.
Councilman Rick Heumann said he supported the changes but wants to make sure city staff reached out to Chandler restaurants to make sure they are OK with rules designating where food-trucks would locate. Wells said staff would be conducting outreach in the coming weeks.
Councilman Terry Roe questioned why Chandler needed to conduct background checks on the business owners, suggesting a previous felony conviction shouldn’t automatically preclude a person from starting a legitimate business.
“I don’t know how somebody with a felony record has anything to do with the food they’re serving,” he said.
Heumann said it could be an issue in some cases. “If someone has a child endangerment, I don’t want them setting up in a park,” he said.
Wells said Chandler police have indicated that in most cases, a felony record would not preclude a person from doing business in the city.
A final proposal and City Council consideration likely won’t occur until after public outreach and advertising the proposal publicly for 60 days.