Wiener’s Half-Baked Response to State Food Truck Bill

by Dana Woldow on March 6, 2012

Today the SF Board of Supervisors will vote on a nonbinding resolution from District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, opposing state legislation to keep food trucks from parking closer than 1500 feet from any school. The state bill, AB1678 “Building Healthy School Environments – Curb Mobile Vending to Kids,” is sponsored by California Food Policy Advocates, a well-respected and much-lauded organization with a 20-year track record of working for the health and well-being of low-income Californians by improving their access to nutritious, affordable food. CFPA describes the need for the bill in their fact sheet thus:

Before, during, and after school, mobile food vendors converge near campuses to sell chips, soda, and a host of other unhealthy snacks. The hallmark of the mobile vending business model – portability – is being used to target students with the very foods and beverages that California has worked so diligently to remove from school campuses. This type of mobile vending diminishes hard-fought, long-sought improvements to school nutrition and the important health messages that those improvements convey to students.

The bill has been vigorously opposed by food truck operators and their legions of devoted followers, who have contacted the state capitol and the legislation’s supporters with emails, and set up a Facebook page and Twitter hash-tag solely devoted to stopping the bill.

Wiener’s nonbinding resolution waxes poetic about the virtues of food trucks, describing them as part of the “thriving food scene” which includes farmers markets and urban agriculture, and indeed there are food trucks which feature organic, sustainable, locally grown and artisanal food. But there are also the trucks described by the CFPA fact sheet, mobile food vendors whose primary offerings are soda, candy, and chips.

Junk food was banned from SFUSD meal programs and vending machines by the SF Board of Education in 2003, but no sooner had that happened than “roach coaches” began arriving at schools as early as 7am to sell to kids; it was common to see students entering school with a breakfast of a Coke in one hand and a giant bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the other.

That’s one reason why State Assembly member Bill Monning (Carmel) introduced AB1678 – because not every truck is selling the kind of healthful, organic and artisan food for which some San Francisco trucks are justly renowned. Even in San Francisco, “roach coaches” still exist, and they are sure to return to close proximity to the schools if they are legally allowed to do so.

Lunch from the new wave of handcrafted food trucks is likely too expensive for most student budgets, but a meal of Coke and Doritos is cheap, until you consider that the medical care cost of obesity in the US was a staggering $147 billion in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Assembly member Monning has said that he is willing to tweak his proposal, and he should. A distance of 1500 feet from every school in the state is overkill; a more reasonable and workable proposal would exempt K-5 schools and private schools, and perhaps reduce the zone around middle schools to 500 feet.

But the Monning bill has not even been heard in committee yet, and there is still time to amend it before it comes up for a vote. Wiener’s resolution, which proposes as the only options that the Legislature oppose the bill, exempt San Francisco from the bill, or allow any local jurisdiction to opt out of the bill, doesn’t even suggest more reasonable limits.

Good legislation does not result from each side digging in their heels and screaming “My way or the highway!” The legislative process is all about debate, amendment, and give and take. Wiener is suggesting bypassing all of that messy “sausage-making” and dumping the state bill right into the garbage without even bothering to help craft something better.

Supporting healthy food trucks is fine, but let’s not pretend every truck is selling healthy food. There is no reason why the SF Board of Supervisors should support Wiener’s resolution.

Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at She supported the passage of San Francisco’s existing ordinance keeping food trucks 1500 feet from public middle and high schools during the day. Follow her on Twitter @nestwife.

Filed under: Archive