RIVERSIDE COUNTY:

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Supervisors ease food truck restrictions

BY JEFF HORSEMAN

Food trucks, a streetscape fixture in other parts of Southern California, can open daily and roam throughout Riverside County after county supervisors eased decades-long limits on the rolling restaurants.

The 5-0 vote made Tuesday, Dec. 10, sets up a framework to ensure mobile food vendors follow the latest health regulations as they travel. Cities can restrict where food trucks can go, and they may eventually be barred from Temecula Valley Wine Country and Idyllwild.

Previously, the county allowed food trucks to operate only as part of festivals. The restrictions dated back to the 1980s, when county officials dealt with reports of unsanitary conditions from what were derogatorily referred to as “roach coaches.”

Since then, the mobile food industry has changed to embrace a foodie culture eager to sample such diverse cuisine as crabmeat tacos, gourmet grilled cheese and bacon-flavored cupcakes from colorful trucks. Two food truck festivals held this year outside the County Administrative Center drew diners who waited in lines that stretched around the parking lot.

Leading the push to change food truck rules was Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who took office in January after promising during his campaign to “free the food trucks.” Allowing food trucks the same flexibility enjoyed elsewhere will boost the economy and give residents more dining choices, said Jeffries, whose district includes most of Riverside, Lake Elsinore and Wildomar.

Matthew Geller, CEO of the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association, said food trucks don’t go where they’re not wanted and provide a way to enter the restaurant business “for guys that don’t have $500,000.”

Riverside County is breaking new ground because its trucks will be subject to California’s strict new food-safety standards, Geller said.

Trucks will be subject to inspections in the field and will need a permit from the county Department of Environmental Health. There will be a one-year phase-in period allowing trucks to continue operating at festivals while they adjust to the new regulations.

The new rules faced opposition from owners of traditional restaurants, who fear food trucks could offer unfair competition by parking near their establishments.

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