You want to open a restaurant in Manteca.
You buy a vacant lot on the edge of downtown in the 600 block of East Yosemite Avenue.
Before you start drawing up plans, the city immediately buries you with tons of rules and regulations.
You want to build a fairly large restaurant covering most of the lot believing people can park on the street. The city says no can do as you need off-street parking so you shrink the size of your planned building.
Next up is the approval gauntlet after you submit your plans. You are told you have to pay for improvements to Yosemite Avenue since your expected business volume will impact traffic. Another department notes that you need outdoor trash containers that meet city architectural standards given you have a walk-up window that’s part of your restaurant.
Before you open you have to pay an annual license fee based on projected gross sales for the privilege of doing business in Manteca.
The city forwards the construction value of your improvements to the county so they can place it on the tax rolls. The $1.1 million project is going to cost you $110,000 a year in taxes.
You start thinking to yourself there’s got to be an easier, less expensive, and less risky way to earn a living.
There is. Get a food truck instead and have the city promote your business. And you can do it without needing to worry about — or pay to mitigate — the parking and traffic issues you create or pay local property taxes and other fees except for a $188 food truck city license to help pay for government services that your business stresses. Better yet, you don’t have to worry about having American with Disabilities Act compliant restrooms —or any restrooms for that matter.
If you haven’t guessed by now, there are some grumblings about this past Sunday’s wildly successful Food Truck Mania at Woodward Park staged by the City of Manteca.
Some are from Woodward Park area residents who were caught off guard by the number of cars parking in their neighborhood. When queried, only a few said there were problems such as driveways being blocked but a few did note there was an uptick in litter.
Others were from the restaurant community.
Mind you they are not upset about a food truck event per se. Instead it’s the fact the city is making it a monthly event to carve out what appears could be an ongoing readymade clientele of 6,000 plus people for 16 hand-picked food purveyors that aren’t even from Manteca. Those 16 businesses can create major ongoing impacts that a brick and mortar restaurant coming into town would never be able to avoid taking responsibility for long in advance of them serving their first customer.
Assuming they paid the $188 per food truck business license, that’s is all they will have contributed to Manteca’s tax base and economy. They won’t even add a single minimum wage job.
The issue isn’t the fact there is a food truck mania event per se once a year such as the Pumpkin Fair or street fair, but that’s its being done on a monthly basis that means the city is using tax-supported staff and tax-financed improvements such as Woodward Park to favor one segment of the business community — food vendors that are mobile — over food vendors that aren’t mobile. And they’re allowing it while creating major impacts to traffic and parking.
As for the Woodward Park residents not looking forward to their neighborhood being inundated once a month with the cars of food truck customers, one might wonder how the city would have reacted if a coalition of food trucks simply parked somewhere in Manteca and broadcast they’d be in that spot for five hours the second Sunday of each monthly.
Other cities such as Lathrop have responded to citizen and business complaints about food trucks lingering extended periods of times in the same spot by putting in place rules that severely restrict the time they can stay in one spot.
This is not the first time anyone has wondered whether the city has any business giving one segment of the business community a distinct advantage over another via city funds or regulations.
Long before he was elected to the Manteca City Council, Mike Morowit astutely noted the city’s deal with Costco that is paying the firm $3.7 million by giving them that much back in sales tax over the years to essentially cover the cost of them building a warehouse store in Manteca was essentially the city subsidizing Costco to take away business from established Manteca concerns such as liquor stores and tire shops.
Granted, the city was looking at all of the sales tax it was losing to Modesto and Tracy from Manteca residents that shopped at Costco stores in those two communities.
The question that Morowit asked then is still relevant now: Just how far should the city go in determining winners and losers in the private sector by actions they take as a municipality?
If we were talking a once a year or even twice a year event it might not really warrant a conversation. But when you are doing it eight times a year you’ve got to ask the question.
And when you ask it — as Ed Fonseca did a few years back when he questioned the city’s foray into the child care business — you might want to ask if the city is playing by the same rules they require of everyone else playing the game whether it is in terms of fees paid or mitigations such as parking and traffic being addressed.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.