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San Francisco Streamlines Food-Cart Permitting Process

New program that aims to increase the number of food trucks in public spaces has already received more than 30 applications

Food cart tents

Food carts may have seemed like a temporary trend two years ago, when onerous city permitting made them guerilla operations. As of Monday, San Francisco Department of Public Works announced that the doors had opened on their new, streamlined permit process, the Mobile Food Facilities Program.

And already the program is proving popular; with no set limits on how many permits can be issued, only that they will be given on a first-come, first-served basis, it's anyone's guess how many food trucks will eventually be parked on city streets.

After a recent workshop drew about 120 people to Civic Center to hear more about process, DPW spokeswoman Gloria Chan said that about 20 had waited in line over the weekend to apply.

"They were camped out over the weekend, in tents, in the rain, in the cold," said Chan.

According to John Birdsall at the blog SF Foodie, the first in line was the San Francisco Soup Company. Matt Cohen, organizer of Off the Grid events, was third in line. He got into line on Friday after one of his events.

What did Cohen say about waiting in the rain? "It sucked," he said laughing, "The way the launch happened wasn't ideal, clearly." After getting one of the tickets that were handed out around 7 a.m. on Monday, he said he left the area around 11 a.m.

The new program comes in response to years of griping in the street food community about the long, expensive process. In November, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation to amend permitting, giving DPW the go-ahead to take charge of the process.

Previously, Chan explained, each food truck application was handled by individual police departments; there was no real process or requirements, just shifting guidelines. Permits were (and still are) also needed from Department of Public Health and the Fire Department, but those had to be done separately. Under the new program, DPW will serve as a kind of one-stop shop, helping applicants talk to different agencies. They estimate that the permitting time could be cut down to 90 days, if no public hearings need to be held.

The two main improvements, according to Daniella Sawaya of kitchen incubator La Cocina in the Mission, were the lowered cost and the fact that more public space would be opened to vendors.

Chan estimated that getting a food truck permit used to cost around $10,000. Now, she said, it would run around $2,000 to $3,000 per truck, per location. Food vendors can occupy as many as seven locations throughout the city. And those worried about food truck invasion into parks, a la the Dolores Park controversy, will have to take up their gripes with the Recreation and Parks Department, as DPW is only charged with improving the process for those vendors looking to park curbside.

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