AB 1678 Is Dropped
It’s over. For now.
On March 28, 2012 Assemblyman Bill Monning announced that he is dropping AB 1678. He conceded in a statement that, “It wasn’t ready for prime time.” It’s clear that he heard the outcry not just from mobile vendors themselves but also from the general public.
This bill is dead, but Monning vows to continue to work to limit mobile food vending near schools:
“I am concerned that in communities across our state, mobile food vendors congregate just outside of elementary, middle, and high schools to direct sales at students before, during, and after the school day. I have seen this business practice first hand and will continue to prioritize children’s health over profit. In that vein, I am working with the sponsors of AB 1678, California Food Policy Advocates, and supporters of the bill, like the California State PTA, to address issues impacting the health of our students.” [SacBee]
While Assemblyman Monning’s statements conspicuously lack any conciliatory tone towards the mobile vendors he riled up with the introduction of AB 1678, I am confident that the food truck community will be included early on in any future efforts to restrict them in such a significant and targeted manner. Tia Shimada and the CFPA conducted a number of productive, collaborative meetings with affected stakeholders which I think set the right corrective tone. We all want a safe, healthy environment for California’s kids. Let’s work on it together.
Many, many thanks to all who stepped up, spoke up, and acted up against the bill. Special thanks go to the folks at SactoMoFo, the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, Associación de Loncheros, Off the Grid, and Moveable Feast.
Now where’s lunch?
AB 1678 in a Nutshell
The following is a quick introduction to AB 1678. It was synthesized from many sources but ultimately it is a statement of my personal understanding and opinion.
On March 28, 2012 the bill was dropped. The following discussion is now primarily historical, though the issues and concerns persist.
Assembly Bill 1678 (AB 1678) is proposed legislation introduced February 14, 2012 in the California Assembly. It was amended March 8, 2012. In its amended form it would ban mobile food vendors (food trucks, hot dog carts, pushcarts, etc.) from serving food within 500 feet of public elementary and secondary schools throughout the state between the hours of 6:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. The amendments allow exceptions for vendors serving on private property, on construction sites, and at film production sites. Also under the amendments vendors can serve on school grounds if they have permission from the school district. Lastly the amendments give individual cities the ability to create their own food truck ordinances.
The goal of the bill is to improve the health and safety of California’s schoolchildren by preventing mobile food vendors (food trucks, hot dog carts, pushcarts, etc.) from operating close to schools when students are present. The implication is that schoolchildren buy and consume unhealthy foods from mobile vendors, bypassing healthier food available from their own school cafeterias.
The stated goal is commendable but the original bill was far too broad and would have done great damage to the mobile food industry. The bill would create large no-truck zones around schools where vendors would be prevented from serving to adults, particularly in dense urban areas like San Francisco and Sacramento. Some vendors likely would have been driven out of business by the increased restrictions. In exchange the bill would have had little effect on children’s health because many young schoolchildren have little or no access to mobile food vendors, and many older students have easy access to unhealthy food from other sources like convenience stores and fast food restaurants. It must be stated that many mobile vendors take great pride in the healthy, made-to-order meals they serve.
The original bill prompted an outcry of opposition from the mobile food vendor community, and criticism from some press, bloggers, and elected officials. The subsequent amendments to the bill address some of the concerns raised. Discussions are still ongoing between proponents and opponents of the bill while the bill sits in committee.
That’s the short version. I invite you to read on for a fuller discussion of the bill. In particular there is a section of links you can use to express your opinion to the legislators who will decide the bill’s fate.
- What is AB 1678?
- What is the status of AB 1678?
- Who is behind AB 1678?
- What is the purpose of AB 1678?
- What’s wrong with AB 1678?
- Should AB 1678 be fixed?
- What can I do about AB 1678? <– Hey! That means you!
- Who is the Food Truck Nerd?
AB 1678 is a California Assembly Bill originally introduced on February 14, 2012 by State Assembly member Bill Monning (27th Assembly District, Monterey) which would ban food trucks from serving food within 1,500 feet of any school from 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM on school days. The original bill would add to the Health and Safety Code as follows:
A mobile food facility may not sell or otherwise provide food or beverages within 1,500 feet of the property line of an elementary or secondary school campus, from the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., inclusive, on a day that school is in session. [Full text]
On March 8, 2012 the author of the bill offered amendments which address many problems with the original bill. Throughout this page I’ll refer to them as the 3/8 Amendments.
The 3/8 Amendments, in summary, contain the following changes:
- The no-truck-zone has been reduced from 1,500 feet to 500
- The ban now applies only to public schools, not all schools
Exceptions are allowed for:
- Trucks on private property with the permission of the property owner
- Trucks adjacent to construction sites, provided the customers are over 18 years old
- Trucks serving film production sites
- Trucks with a formal agreement with the school district
- Most interestingly, the amended bill allows for cities and counties to pass their own laws prior to January 1, 2013, and my understanding is that the local law will take precedence over the state law, even if the local law is less restrictive:
This section shall not be construed to limit or otherwise prohibit the enforcement of a local ordinance adopted prior to January 1, 2013, by a city, county, city and county, or district, including a school district, that regulates the location of operations by a mobile food facility, regardless of whether the local restriction is more or less restrictive than subdivision (a).
It’s not clear to me how that will work. It’s possible I’m reading it wrong.
AB 1678 was introduced on February 14, 2012. Per the state constitution, no action may be taken on it for 30 days, or before March 15, 2012.
On March 8, 2012 it was amended by Monning with the 3/8 Amendments and re-referred to the Health Committee.
On March 28, 2012 Assemblymember Monning announced he was dropping the bill. He is not dropping the issue, however, and could introduce similar legislation in the future.
The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Bill Monning, a Democrat representing the 27th Assembly District which includes Carmel, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. He was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2010. Prior to his election he was a professor at the Monterey College of Law and the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He has introduced numerous pieces of legislation over the years. One which is pertinent to the topic at hand was AB 669 which would add a tax to sweetened beverages to fund programs that promote children’s health. AB 669 was introduced on February 17, 2011 and officially died in committee on February 1, 2012. Another notable fact is that Monning is running for a state senate seat, and on February 18, 2012 announced key education endorsements.
AB 1678 was sponsored by California Food Policy Advocates. From their web site: “We are 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.” They were founded in 1992. In February, 2012 they sponsored five Assembly Bills including AB 1678 which generally increase children’s access to and participation in school meal programs that meet federal nutrition standards. CFPA is registered with the IRS as a public charity. They list as their key funders a number of well-known philanthropic and advocacy foundations such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Koret Foundation, and Share Our Strength. Tia Shimada, M.P.H., a Nutrition Policy Advocate at CFPA, has acted as a spokesperson on behalf of AB 1678.
The issue, as put forth by the bill’s proponents and in the language of the bill itself, is that mobile food vendors park near schools before and after school hours and during lunchtime and deliberately sell unhealthy snacks and meals to school children. These food sales before and after school give kids easy access to foods that are high in calories, fat, and sugar and contribute to the epidemic of childhood obesity. In addition, kids gather curbside at these vendors creating potential traffic and safety hazards. When vendors park at lunchtime near high schools with open campuses (campuses which allow students to leave for lunch), the kids choose meals from food trucks over meals provided by the school. Meals which are provided as part of the Federal government’s National School Lunch Program are required to meet nutritional guidelines; off-campus meals are not. Schools are reimbursed for every meal provided so “competitive” food sales that pull kids away from school lunches impact the fiscal viability of the lunch programs.
To summarize, the purpose of the bill is to push mobile food vendors away from school campuses to (a) provide a safer school environment, (b) remove unhealthy food temptations, and (c) support greater participation in nutritional school lunch programs. The benefits of these three goals are self-evident.
I don’t presume to represent all the nuances of the pro-AB 1678 position. I encourage you to seek out their primary sources and develop your own understanding of both sides of the issue.
While the stated goals of AB 1678 are universally laudable and its supporters are clearly well-meaning, opponents of AB 1678, including me, raise a number of objections to its implementation as initially introduced. Below is the original list of objections, but I’ve added notations in blue where the 3/8 Amendments address them. Many of the items below now read something like, “[The original] AB 1678 does something really bad. The 3/8 Amendments make it not as bad.” Not every objection is addressed by the 3/8 Amendments.
- AB 1678 penalizes every mobile food vendor in the state for the perceived sins of a few. It does not distinguish pushcart operators from taco trucks from pre-packaged ice cream trucks from high-end gourmet food trucks. Trucks are barred regardless of what they sell or who their target customers are.
- AB 1678′s 1,500-foot perimeter is far too large. 1,500 feet is over a quarter mile, or about three city blocks. The 1,500-foot distance is measured from the periphery of the school property line including parking lots, playing fields, etc. so the larger the school campus, the larger the no-truck zone. The 3/8 Amendments reduce this to 500 feet, which is better.
- AB 1678 thinks all trucks target schoolchildren. They don’t. Many popular existing food truck parking spots or gathering locations happen to be within 1,500 feet of the perimeter of a school but are targeting adults such as local workers or residents, not schoolchildren. (Per the 3/8 Amendments the zone is smaller, but some locations are still affected.) I have corresponded with food truck owners who were surprised to learn their spots were two blocks away from a school. Gourmet food trucks that charge premium prices are marketed to appeal to discerning adults, not children spending their own “milk money.” The 3/8 Amendments create exceptions that reflect the reality that just because a truck is near a school doesn’t mean they are targeting children.
- AB 1678 treats food trucks like menaces to society. Consider the following. Traffic speed limits are reduced within 500 feet from a school. Drug penalties are increased within 1,000 feet from a school. Convicted sex offenders are barred from living within 2,000 feet from a school. AB 1678, with its 1,500-foot limit, places food trucks somewhere between drug dealers and sex offenders. The 3/8 Amendment reduces the zone to 500 feet, which is more appropriate for the stated goals of the bill.
- AB 1678 bans trucks completely from dense urban areas. Where schools are close together they would create interlocking no-truck zones that block out large swaths of prime real estate in many California cities. School maps of Sacramento, Orange County, and San Francisco (via SactoMoFo) illustrate dramatically how the state’s population centers would be impacted. The 3/8 Amendments apply the law only to public schools and reduce the zone to 500 feet, so there are fewer and smaller no-truck zones, allowing more space for trucks to sell.
- AB 1678 drives food trucks out of business. With trucks banned from serving adult customers in urban centers during crucial lunchtime and early dinner hours, competition would be increased in remaining open areas, and trucks would inevitably be forced out of business. This would be a tragic loss of small businesses and jobs, a blow to California’s role as a world-leading center of cultural, culinary, and technological innovation, and a setback to the trend of local, fresh, affordable, and nutritious food in which many gourmet food trucks are the vanguard. The 3/8 Amendments reduce the loss of mobile vendor businesses by creating smaller and fewer no-truck zones.
- AB 1678 assumes all food truck food is unhealthy. The bill aims to curb access to junk food, but does not take into account the fact that many food trucks provide healthy, balanced meals prepared to-order with fresh ingredients. [Update] More importantly, opponents of the bill point out that the arguments in favor of the bill do not adequately prove a link between the presence of mobile food vending and childhood health and safety hazards.
- AB 1678 assumes school lunches are superior to mobile food. The nutrition guidelines for school meals are a commendable effort but instances of sub-standard menu items being passed off as nutritious abound. Federal nutrition guidelines, and hence the diets of schoolchildren, are political issues subject to the vagaries of elected officials and the lobbying of major food production and distribution special interests.
- AB 1678 does nothing to curb unhealthy food available from brick-and-mortar stores. Even if food trucks did not exist, many children of all ages still have easy access to junk food from fast food restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, vending machines, and other retailers located near schools and homes. This bill would have minimal impact on students’ diets.
- AB 1678 threatens extracurricular school programs. Several schools partner with food trucks to host gatherings on school grounds as fundraisers that benefit programs such as athletics, performing arts, and even culinary studies. In California’s current fiscal crisis, these programs are subject to severe budget cuts. The bill would make those fundraisers illegal until 6:00 PM, well past their prime after-school earning hours. Without supplemental funds, some programs would be lost. The 3/8 Amendments have an allowance for school districts to grant permission for food trucks to operate on-campus, providing the opportunity for continued fundraisers.
- AB 1678 treats elementary school students like adults. Trucks would be banned from selling to adults near elementary schools at lunchtime, even though elementary schools have closed campuses which their students are not allowed to leave. The ban would have no effect at all on elementary school lunches.
- AB 1678 infringes on private property rights. Many employers, businesses, and construction sites invite food trucks to their properties to serve their employees or customers or to attract visitors. These activities would be illegal if the property happens to be within a quarter-mile of a school. The 3/8 Amendments allow trucks to serve on private property, at construction sites, and at film production sites, even if those sites are within 500 feet of a public school.
- AB 1678′s twelve-hour ban kills every meal. A ban from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM is excessive. Schools generally don’t open before 7:00 AM so there’s no point in starting the ban at 6:00 AM. Breakfast service at a mobile vendor is likely just as nutritious as any breakfast offered at school: fresh fruit, eggs, dry cereal, etc. The impact of the ban on lunch service is obvious and deliberate. Food truck dinner services generally start around 4:30 PM or 5:00 PM so the ban would reduce revenue hours at locations that happened to be too close to a school.
- AB 1678 trumps local measures. The bill presumes to be a one-size-fits-all ban for the entire state. A few cities such as San Francisco and Novato have already passed similar truck-limiting ordinances (which I find unfortunate) tailored to their specific needs, but AB 1678 goes beyond those restrictions. San Francisco is already carving out exceptions to mitigate the unintended consequences of its existing measure. AB 1678 would take away that level of local control. The 3/8 Amendments possibly have the provision for local ordinances to take precedence over the state law. The legal language and concepts here are challenging to me, so I’m not sure my interpretation is correct.
- AB 1678 is one-sided. This bill came out of nowhere and caught the food truck community by surprise. Many wish the authors had consulted with the community before introducing the bill. What could have been a partnership is now a reactive adversarial relationship. We hope there is still room for constructive dialogue. It’s clear from the existence of the 3/8 Amendments that the author and sponsors have heard the concerns from the food truck community and others, and are acting to address them. In addition the author and sponsors have opened dialogues with interested parties such as SoCalMVFA, SactoMofo, myself, and others.
I am okay with the status quo in terms of existing legislation. I don’t feel we need a statewide law to address the relationship of mobile food vendors to schools. If individual schools and communities have a problem with trucks inappropriately selling unhealthy food to schoolchildren, it should be addressed at the local level. The 3/8 Amendments seem to create this opportunity, but it would be more fitting to drop the statewide law and let the localities set their own land-use policies on their own timetables.
If, as an intellectual exercise, I were asked to modify AB 1678 without scrapping it entirely, I would propose the following ideas:
- 1,500 feet from every school is too far. The only geographical ban which makes any conceivable sense to me is 500 feet, within posted yellow school zone traffic signs. The ban should only apply to public streets, not private property. The 3/8 Amendments duly reduce the zone to 500 feet. I still think well-defined boundaries such as school zone signs would be easier to enforce and would more clearly identify actual traffic areas.
- The ban applies to too many schools. Lunchtime bans should only apply to high schools with open campuses.
- 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM is too long. 7:00 AM is a more logical starting time. 4:30 PM is a better ending time, respecting the after-school rush but allowing for non-school related dinner service.
- The ban applies to too many vendors. The perceived evil is pre-packaged junk food: candy, chips, soda, ice cream, etc. A ban could target vendors who sell junk food exclusively; trucks that sell more nutritious food should be excepted.
- Let the schools decide. In all cases, schools should have the ability to invite vendors onto school grounds at their discretion. This allows for creative and mutually beneficial fundraising opportunities. The 3/8 Amendments allow for trucks to get permission from school districts.
I provide this list not to support any ban, but just to illustrate that the original AB 1678 was unreasonable as-is.
I urge you to join the food truck community in unanimously opposing AB 1678. Here are some ways to express your opinions. If you have already responded to the bill, please do provide your feedback on the 3/8 Amendments. Please be respectful and moderate in all communications. There are no bad guys in this discussion; just differing opinions on what’s best for our great state.
- California residents, contact your assemblymember. You can find your representative based on your address here. [Difficulty: moderate]
- Contact Assemblymember Monning directly. Find his contact information here. [Difficulty: moderate]
- Contact Tia Shimada at the California Food Policy Advocates. Her contact information is here. [Difficulty: moderate]
- Sign this online petition at Change.org and spread the word. [Difficulty: easy!]
- Sign this online letter to select California assemblymembers and the CFPA. [Difficulty: easy!]
- “Like” the Facebook page, “Keep California Food Trucks Legal,” and join the discussion. [Difficulty: are you kidding me?!]
- Follow the AB1678 threads on Twitter and join in. I favor the hashtag #AB1678. [Difficulty: seriously?]
- Spread the word via word-of-mouth, all your social networks, blogs, letters-to-the-editors, you name it. [Difficulty: moderate to hard, but so worth it.]
My name is Bill Moore. It’s an odd coincidence that my name shares so many letters in common with Bill Monning’s. I live and work as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley and have been enjoying the gourmet food truck scene in Santa Clara County and beyond since 2010. I started the Food Truck Nerd podcast and blog in June, 2011. I run this fan site simply as a hobby. I have no financial interest in any food trucks. I can be reached at bill at food truck nerd dot com.
I am married and have a son in middle school. Our family enjoys frequent visits to food trucks together. As a parent I am sympathetic to the intent behind AB 1678, safeguarding the health and well-being of children. The bill just does too much harm for very little benefit. For what it’s worth, my son is incensed by the bill. His suggestion for the bill’s authors is, “Why don’t you actually eat at a food truck first?”
Many thanks to everyone below for all the coverage on AB 1678 so far.
- Read AB 1678. It’s not long. You can register for email updates from the state to track the bill.
- Sacramento Mobile Food (http://www.sactomofo.com/) has done a yeoman’s job at getting the word out and the action flowing about AB 1678. Check their website frequently and follow their fuzzy little critter on Twitter (@SactoMoFo) and Facebook. They authored the online letter against AB 1678 you should sign.
- The Southern California Mobile Food Vendor Association (http://socalmfva.com/) is a powerful group representing California’s largest collection of food trucks. Find them on Twitter (@SoCalMFVA). They created the online petition against AB 1678 you should sign.
- Join the Facebook page Keep California Food Trucks Legal, started by Silicon Valley’s Moveable Feast.
- Follow me, the Food Truck Nerd, at http://foodtrucknerd.com/, on Twitter (@foodtrucknerd), and Facebook.
- Pro-AB 1678: Study the California Food Policy Advocates’ web page about AB 1678. You can sign up for email updates from them here, and follow them on Twitter (@CAFoodPolicy).
- Pro-AB 1678: Stay connected with Assemblymember Monning at his web site. He has a Twitter account (@billmonning) but as of this writing it appears dormant. This is an emotional issue for many but personal rancor is uncalled for and counterproductive.
- Will California’s food trucks soon be illegal? – SactoMoFo
- Junk Food Trucks Undercut Healthy School Lunch Rules – The Bay Citizen
- More Food Trucks in the Mission? It Could Happen – Mission Loc@l : News From San Francisco’s Mission District
- Schools rolling out new fundraisers: food truck nights – Los Angeles Times
- Editorial: Ban on food trucks near schools goes way too far – Sacramento Opinion – Sacramento Editorial | Sacramento Bee
- Possible nutrition legislation, AB 1678, worries food trucks | Spartan Daily
- New Bill Treats Food Trucks Like Child Molesters – San Francisco News – The Snitch
- New Food Truck Bill Could Kill S.F.’s Street Food Scene – San Francisco Restaurants and Dining – SFoodie
- Food Truck Ban Could Stop Mobile Foodie Revolution In Its Tracks – Huffington Post
- Inside Scoop SF » Q&A with Assemblyman Bill Monning on AB 1678 and his anti-food truck crusade
- Inside Scoop SF » Would food trucks be wiped out if AB 1678 passes?
- Assemblyman Bill Monning’s bill bans food trucks, mobile vendors near schools, but effect is broad – San Jose Mercury News
- As We See It: Food truck bill heavy handed – San Jose Mercury News
- Ross Resnick: First Graders and Food Trucks – Huffington Post
- Wiener Wants To Relax Food Truck Laws | NBC Bay Area
- California Food Truck Ban Cooks Up Growing Opposition – Huffington Post
- Vendors Win Food Truck Fight – The Bay Citizen
- Food Truck Nerd Podcast Special Episode 22a: SF Supervisor Scott Wiener on AB 1678 | Food Truck Nerd
- Food truck bill seeks to combat childhood obesity – SF Chronicle
- Should mobile food trucks be allowed near schools; two sides | Video | news10.net
- Bill Monning: Data behind limits on mobile food vendors – MontereyHerald.com
- Solorio says that food trucks aren’t making kids fat | New Santa Ana
- Another View: Food trucks add to the obesity crisis – Viewpoints – The Sacramento Bee
- Curtailing a fight over food trucks – SF Chronicle
- California’s misguided attempt to ban food vendors near schools – latimes.com
- BeyondChron » Mobile Vendor PR Straight From Big Soda Playbook
- BeyondChron » Food Trucks Key to San Francisco’s Food Diversity & Culture
- California Bill Banning Food Trucks From Parking Near Schools Is Quashed – San Francisco Restaurants and Dining – SFoodie
- California lawmaker drops proposal to ban food trucks near schools – latimes.com
- Capitol Alert: Bill Monning drops bill to restrict California food trucks – SacBee
- Appetizers: Full text of statement to drop mobile food vending bill AB 1678 – SacBee (Appetizers?!)
- AB 1678 Will Not Proceed Further in 2012 | SoCalMFVA
- California’s Bogus War on Food Trucks – Reason Magazine