City Council Meeting: September 11, 2012

Agenda Item: 7-B  

To:                   Mayor and City Council 

From:              David Martin, Director of Planning and Community Development

Subject:          Introduction and First Reading of an Ordinance to Permit Off-Street Food Truck Venues in the CM Main Street Commercial District and Adjacent A Off-Street Parking Overlay Districts and the C4 Highway Commercial District by Performance Standards Permit.


Recommended Action


Staff recommends that the City Council introduce for first reading the attached ordinance which would permit by Performance Standards Permit (PSP) off-street food truck venues in the CM Main Street Commercial District and adjacent A Off-Street Parking Overlay Districts and the C4 Highway Commercial District.


Executive Summary


In response to Council direction to permit off-street food trucks through an ordinance amendment, on August 15, 2012 the Planning Commission adopted a Resolution of Intention to consider a modification to SMMC Sections,,, and Subchapter 9.04.12 to permit the off-street food truck venues by PSP. On \\csmfs03\Records and Election Services\RecordsAndElectionShare\Meetings\WWW\2012\20120911\PC staff report.doc August 22, 2012 the Planning Commission voted 5 -2 to recommend to Council amendments to these Code sections.




On January 19, 2010, the City Council directed staff to examine the issue of food truck venues on private property and propose a mechanism to allow these venues on a temporary basis, subject to operational conditions.


City staff reported to the Council on August 11, 2010 that a Temporary Use Permit would be the implementing mechanism to allow off-street food truck venues on a temporary basis to enable staff to further study the issue and return with a recommendation on a permanent permitting mechanism through a Zoning Ordinance amendment. Staff reported back to Council on June 21, 2011 on several food truck issues, including the popularity of the temporary off-street food truck venue at the California Heritage Museum and some concerns raised by Main Street restaurant operators. Council then directed staff to return with a recommendation on Zoning Ordinance amendments that could authorize off-street food truck venues on a permanent basis. To date, off-street food truck venues have only been approved on a temporary basis at the California Heritage Museum on Tuesday nights and at 1401 Santa Monica Boulevard on Wednesdays. 




Food vending trucks have evolved from offering simple fare to worksite employees to offering gourmet and exotic foods to the general public. These food vending trucks often gather in an organized off-street venue and use modern social networking tools to advertise such gatherings. Such off-street food truck venues are currently happening in such diverse cities as West Hollywood, Seattle, Portland and Cincinnati where they attract customers to underserved areas, create “eyes and ears” on the street, and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for start-up businesses. However, there are no provisions in the Santa Monica Municipal Code that permit such off-street food truck venues to operate on a permanent basis.


As noted above, the City Council directed staff to recommend a permitting mechanism to allow food truck venues on a continuing basis. Staff recommends a Performance Standards Permit (PSP) to allow food truck venues in the CM Main Street Commercial District and adjacent A Off-Street Parking Overlay Districts and the C4 Highway Commercial District. A Performance Standards Permits “is intended to allow certain uses to be established in particular areas if they comply with specific criteria and standards.”  A PSP “provides for an administrative review and assessment of the proposed development project in light of explicit performance standards which have been designed to ensure that the completed project will be in harmony with existing or potential uses in the surrounding area…” The PSP is administratively issued by the Zoning Administrator and is appealable to the Planning Commission.   The adjacent property owners and residents are sent a copy of the PSP determination once it is issued.


Based upon LUCE principles and interest shown to date, staff recommends food truck venues in the CM Main Street and adjacent A Overlay districts, and the C4 Highway Commercial district. The LUCE states that Main Street should accommodate a variety of commercial uses that provide daily necessities for those living in the surrounding community, tourists and the greater Santa Monica area.  Off-street food truck venues provide a variety of inexpensive food options for the entire community. In addition, the LUCE states that businesses and activities on Main Street that provide a distinctive experience such as the California Heritage Museum, community gardens and the farmer’s market should be supported.  Off-street food truck venues on Main Street would be consistent with this policy in that they are themselves a unique experience that increases pedestrian traffic in the area.


The C4 district is recommended for similar reasons. The LUCE states that an enhanced multi-modal, mixed-use boulevard should be created along Santa Monica Boulevard that provides residents, employees and visitors with an inviting pedestrian environment.  Off-street food truck venues would enhance the pedestrian experience by offering a variety of inexpensive food options to area pedestrians.  The LUCE also calls for active ground floor uses on Main Street, Pico Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard and sidewalk dining along Santa Monica Boulevard, Pico Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard. Finally, there are stretches of Santa Monica Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard that are not well served by food serving establishments.  


The A Off-Street Parking Overlay Districts have been included since these areas are adjacent to the CM zoned areas on Main Street and support commercial operations on the street.






Planning Commission Action


The Planning Commission considered the proposed amendment at its meeting on August 22, 2012. The Commission discussed various permitting options, including allowing the food truck venues by Temporary Use Permit with a limited term or allowing the existing food truck operations to continue as permitted until the Zoning Ordinance is updated. The Commission, however, decided not to defer action to the Zoning Ordinance update and voted 5-2 to recommend a Performance Standards Permit to authorize the use. In addition, the Commission recommended that the Council consider a permitting mechanism for the food truck venues that would have a limited term, subject to renewal and possible amended conditions or standards. For reasons stated further in this staff report, staff is not recommending this approach to permitting food truck venues.


Performance Standards Permit

The Commission supported the staff recommended Performance Standards Permit approach with some modifications to the standards. The Commission recommended standards that differentiated the number of food truck events and hours of the events between the C4 district and CM/A Overlay districts. Staff recommended a maximum of three events per week, not before 8:00am or after 11:00pm. The Commission felt that food truck venues in the C4 district should be limited to a total of four and not exceed a maximum of three events per week, operating between the hours of 8:00am to 11:00pm. Further, the Commission recommended limiting venues in the CM/A Overlay districts to one location with maximum hours of 5:00pm to 10:00pm.


The following performance standards incorporate the Planning Commission’s recommendations and are intended to ensure that the off-street food truck venues are compatible with surrounding and adjacent uses and do not create an adverse impact on adjacent properties by reason of noise, parking or litter:



In the CM Main Street Commercial District and adjacent A Off-Street parking Overlay District, one off-street food truck venue is permitted which may operate one day per week and not before 5:00pm or after 10:00pm, including set-up and clean-up.




There are no recognized off-street parking standards for food truck venues. The Zoning Ordinance requires one parking space per 75 sq. ft. of dining area in restaurants, within which about two tables or eight patrons can be located. Based on observation and past experience, staff estimates that, on average, food trucks can serve up to 16 patrons per hour (about one every four  minutes). Since most food trucks observed in operation in Santa Monica serve prepared (not pre-made) meals, an estimate of approximately 16 patrons per hour is equivalent to a dining area of 150 sq. ft. justifies a requirements of two parking spaces per food truck.




Allowing Off-Street Food Truck Venues on a Limited Term, Subject to Renewal


Currently, Santa Monica’s zoning laws do not have any mechanism to authorize permanent or perpetually recurring uses with limited term use permits.  Consistent with generally accepted land use principles, local use permits (PSPs, CUPs, etc…) generally grant land use entitlements to a property in perpetuity, unless otherwise revoked, abandoned or amortized out of existence by subsequent legislation.


California courts have viewed expiration of use permits (e.g. PSP, CUP) in the land use context with skepticism.  Courts generally agree that use permits do not expire automatically, even when a condition to the permit or local law provide for such an expiration.  In one case, a California court concluded that “once a use permit [even ones with a definitive end-date] has been properly issued, the power of a municipality to revoke it is limited.”  The court concluded that refusing to renew a use permit (even ones with definitive terms) at the end of the permit term is to be treated the same as revocation.  Generally, revocation (or non-renewal) could occur if the permittee fails to comply with permit conditions or if the permittee operates in a way that creates a public nuisance.  Additionally, independent from revocation, the City could eliminate established uses in a zoning district through amortization.


Of course, these judicial decisions do not impose an outright prohibition from imposing expiration dates on use permits, such as this PSP.  However, even with an automatic expiration date, the City would still have to meet the rigorous revocation standards before it could effectuate the permit expiration.   Nonetheless, an expiration date could provide the City with a practical opportunity to reexamine the permit at issue, and allow the City to determine if adjustments are appropriate (e.g. through revocation for non-compliance or elimination of the use through amortization).



Environmental Analysis

The proposed ordinance is exempt from the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to Section 15061(b)(3) in that it can been seen with certainty that the proposed ordinance does not have the potential to significantly impact the environment, since the proposed ordinance amendment merely allows off-street food truck venues on large parcels with limited hours of operation and in limited areas of the City with standards in place to ensure that there no adverse impacts on the adjacent and surrounding neighborhood. In addition, the text amendment is exempt under CEQA Section 15304, Class 4 which exempts minor temporary use of land having negligible or no permanent effects on the environment since the off-street food truck venues would be allowed a maximum of three days per week with limited hours.


Public Hearing


Notices of the City Council public hearings were published in the Santa Monica Daily Press a minimum of 10 days prior to the hearing in accordance with City requirements.

Financial Impacts & Budget Actions

There is no immediate Budget/Financial impact to the policy decision. 



Prepared by: Paul Foley, Principal Planner







Forwarded to Council:







David Martin, Director

Planning and Community Development


Rod Gould

City Manager








            A. Proposed Ordinance