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On Valentine’s Day, Assembly Member Monning submitted AB 1678 -Building Healthy School Environments -Curb Mobile Vending to Kids. Sponsored by the California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), a statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well being of low income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable food, the bill seeks to restrict mobile vending around K-12 schools between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. during school season, and prohibits vending within 1500 feet of school property lines.

CFPA requested that the legislature help create healthy school environments, support academic achievement, and promote student wellness by restricting mobile food vending near school campuses before, during, and after the school day.

On its surface, the proposal seems reasonable, however many mobile food vendors are concerned that a one-size fits all solution will eliminate mobile vending in entire cities throughout the state. The bill makes no mention of brick and mortar restaurants near schools, and mobile vendors feel that the mobile foods industry has been unfairly singled out. Further, the 1500 foot restriction in dense cities like San Francisco, could take mobile food vendors off the street entirely during business hours, due to the overlap in restricted fields.

The motivation behind ab1678, monning, cfpaTia Shimada, Nutrition Policy Advocate at CFPA, focuses on issues of access, participation, and nutritional quality primarily in the school breakfast and summer nutrition programs. Tia co-coordinates the BreakfastFirst Campaign and contributes to CFPA’s data analyses that examine impacts of the federal nutrition programs, particularly CalFresh.

“We understand that many food trucks offer healthy choices, and we also acknowledge that the brick and mortar restaurants have the capacity to impact student nutrition, as well,” Shimada said. “Mobile food vendors have the ability to pick up their wares, and settle in any location. Many vend right outside the school gates, or in unsafe locations.”

The motivation behind AB 1678, monning, cfpaAccording to Shimada, the bill came as a result of mobile food operators vending directly outside school grounds across the state. School officials in various cities have requested support from local authorities in, asking mobile foods operators to relocate, however in most cases, no laws are violated.

“The trucks park right near our school exit,” said Stephanie Wallace, Principal of San Marcos Elementary School. “Students crowd this area and block the sidewalk while they make purchases. All of this activity creates traffic jams and causes parents and students to walk in the street. This isn’t just about nutrition, but also about safety. I’ve asked our local sheriffs to help with this issue, but the vendors aren’t breaking any laws. I’ve asked the vendors to leave, but they’re still here every day.”

In other parts of the state, the situation has become a high risk. Miguel Villarreal, the nutrition services director for Novato Unified School District (NUSD), describes the conditions that prompted the new ordinance as dangerous. “Our high schools had up to six trucks parked right next to campus at one time,” he said. “More and more students were congregating nearby and schools were having difficulty providing adequate supervision. We heard concerns from principals about the aggressive competition between vendors. Principals were also troubled about so many kids spilling out into the streets, kids completely blocking the sidewalk, and kids encroaching on neighboring private property. Luckily we had no traffic accidents, but there were close calls.”

The CFPA AB1678 Fact Sheet claims that mobile food vending near schools:

- Draws participation away from school meal programs;
- Negatively impacts student health and safety;
- Reinforces the negative stigma associated with participating in the school meal programs; and
- Jeopardizes the fiscal viability of school nutrition services.

The organization believes that limiting mobile food vending near school campuses will help create environments that foster student wellness and, by extension, academic success.

“This bill is just one step of many,” said Shimada. “We’ve worked for years to create healthier school environments for our students. In some communities, these efforts are being undermined by mobile food vending that competes with the healthy meals and snacks offered by schools through federally funded nutrition programs. We are open to… we need to hear… feedback from the mobile foods community. Anyone is welcome to contact our office.”

Earlier this year, the organization sponsored AB 1560, introduced by Assembly Member Fuentes to modify the California Welfare and Institutions Code in order to make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more accessible to Medi-Cal benefit recipients. Only half of eligible Californians participate in CalFresh. At a time when working families are struggling to make ends meet, it is critical that they receive nutrition assistance. This bill ensures that people who receive public health coverage (Medi-Cal), can also receive CalFresh, and that children in their households will be certified for free school meals. Program alignment will make sure that in the future, low-income Californians have easy access to a package of benefits to support health.

Find the California Food Policy Advocates online at http://cfpa.net/

Comments? Suggestions? What’s your opinion? How can California curb our mobile street food vendors at K-12 schools without alienating an entire sector of small businesses?

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About the Author

Chris Ford is the founder of Stitches 'n Dishes and editor in chief with a passion for food, photography and travel. Chris is a Media Correspondent for the Food Network TV show, Eat St, a syndicated blogger, seasoned event organizer and promoter, a food critic, a marketing consultant and Social Media Marketing expert. Chris is also a fashion and entertainment photographer. When he's not dining on the sidewalk, he's snapping photos on the catwalk.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMoFo SactoMoFo

    Wouldn’t it be far easier just to close the school campuses, or make it illegal for the trucks to vend to students? Those 1500 foot interlocking circles cover up 80% of San Francisco, and almost 90% of Novato – meaning that the trucks in those communities would be banned from doing business anywhere meaningful.

    I wonder at what point the (probably pretty marginal) increase in nutrition becomes on par with the number of jobs lost, and the loss in choice to adult consumers. And I wonder if the author of this bill actually surveyed students to see that if the trucks were not available, would they eat the food served at schools, or would they eat non-nutritious food from another source? That would be interesting data to see.

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      The issue that’s been raised is apparently in response to trucks parking (sometimes in round-ups) right in front of schools. So, even on closed campuses, kids can easily access food trucks.

      In my interview with Tia Shimada, I sensed that the underlying issue has more to do with revenue than health and safety. Other issues were discovered after seeing a revenue impact after the onset of food trucks in the general vicinity of schools.

      The school nutrition program is essentially a very large brick and mortar restaurant with thousands of locations throughout the state. It’s ultimately the same argument that restaurateurs have made, but packaged differently.

      Many cities have already established similar ordinances on their own, but have realized the impact to their own revenues. San Francisco selectively enforces their own 1000 foot code. SFPD will drive passed food trucks vending a few doors down from schools in some cases, then ask vendors to move along in others.

      Enforcement is expensive. Local police departments won’t have the budget to actively enforce such a bill, so the state will need to compensate for that. I’d imagine that aside from the cost of enforcement, each city council will take a different approach to the bill. San Francisco is currently rethinking its 1000 foot code, and it’s doubtful it will support a 1500 foot law. SF is infamous for selectively enforcing all sorts of laws.

      Bottom line is the state has invested billions in the nutrition program at nearly every school in the state, and it’s seeking to protect its interest. My guess is that a handful of schools have experienced crowd control issues that have gone unnoticed, until this became a budget issue. Adding unenforceable laws increases costs to individual cities, and ultimately the state.

      Rather than prohibit food trucks from doing business in large areas, the state could require that each city develop its own ordinances. Cities could require vendors to apply for permits to serve near schools. Menus could be reviewed and approved, and safe vending locations could be determined by school districts. Revenues from permits could be shared with the school nutrition programs to offset the budget impact, any health concerns would be averted, and there would be no safety concerns. Nobody goes out of business, including the nutrition program, albeit it would require yet another permit.

      • http://twitter.com/SactoMoFo SactoMoFo

        That makes a lot of sense, that it would all come down to protecting revenue. I wonder if they have any real data post-1500-foot-rule (in Novato) that shows that it’s working? That is, are students now eating food bought through the school program, now that the trucks are not immediately outside the school?

        We talked to a source at the school who suggested cafeteria revenues hadn’t changed, but I’d love to see some real data showing a before and after.

        • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

          In any situation, especially a government situation, the squeeky wheel always gets the grease. Change is typically suggested when something becomes unbearable. In this case, I’d venture to guess that either a large number of schools have complained about food trucks, or the budget was impacted. We do know that a number of schools have gone on record, indicating that they’ve experienced problems. I’m guessing that it’s been overlooked previously – someone’s picking battles to deal with, and a few pesky food trucks aren’t a big enough concern. Given the comments Tia made, I’m guessing the big motivator here is revenue. I mentioned in the article that CFPA had previously recognized that less than half of those qualified for these services are actually using them. They sponsored another bill to make the services easier to obtain. It wouldn’t be a leap to guess that the fiscal year ended, numbers didn’t look that great, and they’re looking for any way possible to eliminate competition. I do have a quote from Tia, indicating as such (that the intent is to remove competition with the nutrition program). If fewer food options are available, and the program is easier to access, more people would be expected to use it.

          There is no argument that kids who use these programs benefit from them. And I think everyone agrees that the nutrition program is important for California, especially now during difficult financial times for most.

          The school nutrition program isn’t really that much older than the food truck phenominan, though. So, I’m not sure if we’d find solid before and after data, though I’d love that.

          • http://mvblfeast.com/ Moveable Feast

            It appears from the Novato case that all of the “mobile food vendors” are in fact prepackaged ice cream trucks. The very nature of prepackaged ice cream trucks is to intentionally go after children. There is zero evidence of taco trucks, gourmet trucks, or traditional lunch trucks with prepared foods targeting schools. The California Retail Food Code considers prepackaged ice cream and candy trucks as different from the rest of the food truck world. If the proposed bill just made this distinction as well, it would be substantially less controversial.

  • Tia Shimada

    Stitches n’ Dishes, thanks for creating an opportunity to have
    informed discussions about AB 1678. We really
    appreciate hearing all sides of the conversation. Yes, CFPA is concerned about
    mobile food vending that “competes” with school nutrition programs. However our
    interests in this issue are not first and foremost rooted in revenue. Our
    underlying concern – and the impetus for AB 1678 — is student health.

     

    Mobile food vending near school campuses “competes” with school
    nutrition programs by drawing participation away from these programs. Mobile
    vending in close proximity to campuses before, during, and after school hours
    diminishes participation in the school meal and snack programs. California
    schools and policymakers have made changes – and continue to make changes – to
    improve the food and beverages available on campuses. We believe those efforts
    ought to be supported by state policy. AB 1678 is one way to do just that.

     

    Mobile vending of unhealthy food and beverages
    also “competes” with messages being sent to students. This type of vending increases students’ access to unhealthy options and drowns out lessons about sound nutrition. From the
    outset, we’ve acknowledged that nutritious food can be sold through the mobile
    vending model. Unfortunately, according to input we’ve received from California
    school districts, that is not what’s being served by many mobile vendors near
    school campuses. 

     

    Certainly, low participation in the school nutrition programs
    means less federal funding for California school districts. We recognize that
    the loss of those funds can jeopardize the fiscal viability of school nutrition
    programs. True to our mission, we support strategies and policies that bring
    the benefits of all federal nutrition programs to those who are eligible. Those
    strategies and policies do bring federal funds to California.

     

    We look forward to working with the mobile food community to address
    concerns about mobile vending that specifically targets students without unduly infringing
    on mobile vending to the general public. I hope we can keep the productive conversations going. Thanks again for providing a great venue for discussion.

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      Thanks so much for responding, Tia! This is definitely a multi-faceted – and very complex – issue. It really points to those three areas: nutrition, safety and funding. Obviously, eliminating trucks from the general vicinity only addresses part of a nutrition issue, since junk food sales would continue at nearby brick and mortar establishments. I think that moving trucks away from the driveways and right in front of schools would definitely mitigate some of the nutritional concerns.

      Prohibiting vending by mobile food vendors in a 1500 foot radius would seem more effective in reducing competition from a financial perspective, and it would probably mitigate or remove the safety risk. I’d love to see some suggestions here about how to address all three.

      Permitting and taxes could certainly address some financial aspects.

      We don’t think that vendors selling junk food (ice cream trucks, and snack trucks) should be allowed to vend in front of schools, and that each city or county should manage the process for permitting trucks to vend within reasonable limits.

  • Tia Shimada

    And apologies, that should be “Stitches n’ Dishes”!

  • http://twitter.com/cuppingmaster Alan Torres

    If this is an inherently local issue (some campus are open, some are not, etc.) then why are you bothering with statewide legislation?  I’m as liberal as they come, but this just smacks of the state getting in the way of decisions that ought to be made at a local level.  Indeed, Mr. Monning himself said his intent wasn’t to regulate food trucks in LA and SF “that tweet what nightclub they’ll be at” — so, why craft legislation that does exactly that?  

    If he knew anything about food trucks, he’d know they also serve local workers at lunch when they aren’t “tweeting their nightclub location.”  If they serve lunch and dinner 7 days a week, this legislation could curtail 5/14 potential earning times for them.  

    It’s certainly a good idea to promote healthier eating for children.  This bill is just too broad, and also ignores more systemic issues of school nutrition and campus policy.  Please fix those and then consider regulating food trucks in a more practical way.  

  • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

    Thanks for your insight, Alan. I hope Tia Shimada at CFPA is still following this thread. Our intent here was to explain the bill and why it was introduced, and to open a communication channel with CFPA. Tia said that CFPA is very open to a dialog about the bill. In my opinion, I think the dialogue should have been open prior to drafting the bill to begin with. I’ll post some resource information about AB1678 tonight.

  • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

    Absolutely. I just replied to Alan’s comment – all controversy could have been avoided, had a dialogue been open prior to drafting the bill. We don’t disagree that certain regulations are necessary, but we do believe that Assemblymen shouldn’t work in a vacuum. Input from constituents prior to drafting the bill would have mitigated these debates dramatically.