San Diego’s food truck regulations pose a serious threat to breweries and the delicious bites we’ve grown accustomed to while enjoying our craft beer.

fix san diego opinionPart of the San Diego craft brewery experience is the variety of food trucks you’ll find parked outside. Many breweries coordinate and advertise the location of food trucks through social media. High-end, expertly crafted beers like a Hess Brewing Company Ex Umbris or a Thorn Street Brewery Agave Amber pair perfectly with a creative and mobile culinary experience.

In fact, San Diego has become known for this scene: exceptional beer and food trucks pushing the limits of meals on wheels, so much so that we now have roughly 75 food trucks in San Diego County.

Unfortunately, the city’s new food truck regulations could have a disastrous effect on all this. While I understand the health and safety needs for some regulation, these laws are overbroad efforts to protect very specific high-density restaurant areas.

First, a bit of good news: If a brewery is located in an industrial zone or certain commercial business parks, food trucks are permitted to operate on the property without a permit. So business there will go on as usual.

For breweries outside of those areas, though, things are about to get much more difficult and expensive. Certain agencies still need to sign off, but here’s what the new regulations dictate:

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

• Food trucks will be allowed in city streets, but with myriad restrictions including the number of parking spaces a truck can occupy, and the distance the truck must park away from crosswalks and intersections.

• Food trucks will not be allowed in most of the Gaslamp District or Little Italy, except in connection with special events (which need their own permits).

• Food trucks operating within 300 feet of a dwelling unit will face curfews: 10 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. This probably won’t cause too many problems. Unlike bars, breweries generally close around 11 p.m. on weekends.

• Non-exempt commercial properties hosting food trucks will be required to obtain one-year permits costing between $491 and $935 for each location.

• In beach cities such as Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and La Jolla, food trucks won’t be permitted to operate within two to three blocks of the ocean and in certain “parking-impacted areas” like San Diego State University, University of California, San Diego and University of San Diego.

• Food trucks won’t be able to sell merchandise or alcohol.

Other miscellaneous hurdles for food trucks would include bathroom requirements, sidewalk and parking regulations and cleaning protocols.

The sidewalk and parking regulations would be especially difficult for breweries if trucks serving their customers park on city streets. Many breweries in urban areas like North Park might not have the newly required width of sidewalk or parking space next to their locations.

The food truck “fight” has generally been framed as restaurants versus food trucks, but we haven’t given enough credence to craft breweries’ reliance on food trucks. Breweries throughout the county should take note of what the city’s trying to do.

Limiting food trucks this way is a bad idea. Yes, they should be properly regulated to account for the health and safety of customers, and yes, they should pay their fair share of taxes. But the City Council used a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

We should learn from other big cities like Los Angeles, where food trucks aren’t so heavily regulated. Research based on L.A.’s mobile food vendors showed the trucks increased pedestrian activity and traffic in nearby restaurants.

In its January report to City Council, the planning commission noted: “Local food truck businesses are a part of an emerging local industry of creative and cutting edge food cuisine that has helped to create an active and social pedestrian environment in communities throughout the industry.”

That “emerging local industry” includes craft breweries, which are also “creative and cutting edge.” To avoid undue harm to one of San Diego’s fastest growing and most popular industries, members of City Council should revisit these regulations to ensure breweries don’t become casualties in the battle between restaurants and food trucks.

Amanda Allen is the founder and managing attorney at Aguirre Allen Law, with a focus on business and real estate transactions and litigation. She specializes in craft breweries. Allen’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Fix San Diego, Food, News, Opinion

    Written by Catherine Green

    Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Microbreweries not offering food on premises avoid the requirements for obtaining a San Diego County Health Permit and are exempt from sanitary inspections. This means that your glass may not have been properly washed and is harboring bacteria, that the restrooms may not have been sanitized, and when it comes to mold and vermin, you are on your own. It is a good idea to take sanitary wipes with you for you and your children when visiting one of these microbreweries because there is no guarantee that anything has been cleaned. You may get something more than a hangover after visiting a microbrewery, so take care.

    mel luce
    mel luce subscriber

    There are many, many other places that food trucks could go that would be welcomed!!  That's why you have wheels right?  I'm sure there are places like La Mesa or Lemon Grove that would love some great food on wheels!  I bet their licensing fees may even be lower than the City of San Diego.  People would love to spend money on good food out here!!  Just drive on over!

    bzri bee
    bzri bee subscriber

    I disagree with two comments below:  1.  The brewery may bring in a food truck as they don't have a kitchen.  That allows customers to have good food while enjoying craft beer.  Lots of folks like to drink AND eat, something besides nuts and popcorn.  2. (to vintagevoice)  I live in North Park close to Hess. I LOVE that there is a food truck nearby most nights.  I will often walk over to see what's being served.  Even on the busiest nights, there is never much of a line and the sidewalks are usually clear.  People will move over if needed.  It is just not a problem to me, and part of what I love about living in this busy part of North Park.  Sometimes the caterers park behind Hess but I prefer when they're in front, so I don't have to go through the restaurant or around the tent to order something.  

    While there may be people who live nearby who don't like the trucks, most of the folks I know think it is a positive addition, not a detraction to life here.  

    At least in my area, there is not additional noise, crowds or disruptions.  There is plenty of low cost parking available.  The trucks enhance the neighborhood, imho.  I love living here, noise (Ray at Night) and all!

    Ian D. Miller
    Ian D. Miller subscriber

    I'd like to know who is complaining about food trucks operating past 10/11pm?  The curfew makes no sense to me.  If there's business to be had by the food truck, then let them stay open as late as they want.  It doesn't make sense to set an artificial limit on how late people can buy food.

    The sidewalk depth requirement makes some sense (you don't want people spilling into the street) but it seems like a better idea would have been to have some standards for how a line forms against a food truck rather than requirements of sidewalk depth.  I can think of a few breweries and bars in North Park in particular that likely won't meet that requirement.

    If food trucks are mostly available at the industrial breweries, then that will be an even greater boon for those breweries now.  People chase food trucks to some degree and if they have to chase them to other breweries, then those breweries win.  I don't think food trucks in gaslamp or little italy were ever a good fit (I see a few down there from time to time but I can imagine it's a total hassle finding a spot and dealing with all the downtown craziness).  North Park seems like it'll be the hardest hit by this, but I know Hess has brought caterers into their NP brewery to do a lot of what a food truck would do (and I imagine food trucks can operate as normal caterers, inside the facility, if that's what's needed to work around the laws).

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    The "research" link above does not seem to work. Regardless, breweries brew beer for sale. Many also have tasting rooms. Nice! Some, like Stone, have great restaurants. Sounds to me like a few are too cheap or small to create their own restaurants and prefer to just contract with or encourage food trucks to come and be their restaurant. How does a restriction on food trucks hurt the brewery industry? Well apparently it lessens onsite sales due to lack of a cheap source of food for those drinking the beer. I am not crying in my Stone IPA over this issue.

    Wayne Stivers
    Wayne Stivers

    Just dumb. Sorry your crappy brick 'n' mortar sucks.

    dannojoyce subscriber

    95% of San Diego's breweries are located in industrial zones....  No permits are required for mobile food trucks in industrial zones, they are allowed by right (no permit required)

    Anthony Wagner
    Anthony Wagner subscribermember

    @dannojoyce  you are correct - the distinction could be an over-lay zone that may not have the same requirement.  

    David Lizerbram
    David Lizerbram subscribermember

    @dannojoyce Part of the business model for small neighborhood breweries includes being able to provide food via food trucks. If we want more small breweries in our neighborhoods, this is part of the equation. As a resident of North Park, I want breweries to be able to provide food in one form or another in order to balance the alcohol intake, increase sales tax revenue, and to give these entrepreneurial businesses a chance to thrive.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    Well Sara Boot is evidently in favor of eliminating red tape for small businesses which are around 94% of the businesses in San Diego (according to her website).  Isn't it telling how so many of our politicians talk about cutting red tape but we see a never ending barrage of new regulations being produced and/or talked about.

    My favorite one from above is the curfew requirement; as though any smart business owner would find it worth while to drive a food truck around town at 3am.  That would only make sense near places like gaslamp where there isn't any parking anyway.  I'll chalk that idea up as a solution waiting for a problem.  Our council members must be really bored to be discussing non-existing problems.

    vintagevoice subscriber

    It seems like Amanda is saying the "craft breweries" really want to have a restaurant on their premises that they don't have to manage but ups their beer sales. 

    Personally, I've enjoyed the brewery with beer truck combo restaurant situation many times. It does seem great if you dont live nearby. But if I was a neighbor I'd be really pissed. Now I have a busy street restaurant with people hanging out in front on the street. Not the same as the quiet tasting room / brewery that was supposed to be next door. 

    Actually, it is kind of backward isnt' it? No food trucks in the Gaslamp or Little Italy restaurant areas, but they are allowed in neighborhoods? 

    Frankly, I'd require bars/breweries/tasting rooms within 300 feet of a dwelling to apply for some kind of special permit to have a food truck parking spot, and I'd have public meeting with a speaking period before the permit was considered. A brewery with a food truck parked in front every is a restaurant, and should be treated as such.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @vintagevoice  Why is that backwards?  If I am in little italy and downtown there is practically no available parking for a food truck.  Moreover there are already places there to eat.  The idea of a food truck is to bring food to places where there isn't any!  Such as parking lots of businesses so that people don't have to drive during lunchtime.  Food trucks aren't using megaphones or loud music in the neighborhoods.  I've been near the societe brewing many times and the food trucks are not noisy at all.  

    getliterate subscriber

    @shawn fox @vintagevoiceI wouldn't say that the idea of a food truck is to bring food to places where there isn't any. I think that's looking at it from a customer's perspective when it is really a business decision.

    Food truck owners place their trucks in areas where they believe they will make the most profit. Sometimes that's in a place where there aren't many options but I'd bet that in most cases, they actually park in areas that are flooded with people who are hungry which would be in high traffic areas with offices and/or restaurants. They compete by offering their food quickly and at a lower price.

    As for the problem with the breweries, I think that's overstated. Breweries may be benefiting from the trucks, but I don't know of any brewery that relies on a food truck to drum up business or to keep the business they already get. If they needed the food truck to be there for their business to survive then they must be making crappy beer.

    As a beer connoisseur I could care less if a food truck was in front of Stone Brewery, Carl Strauss, Green Flash... Many of those places offer food anyways.

    I respect anyone's opinion on the subject but I think there might be some bias on the part of the author who makes her money by litigating these issues.

    jrubin81 subscriber

    Most breweries don't actually have food.  They are not allowed to, hence the food trucks.  And I do think most breweries advertise the food trucks that are there to help drum up customers.  Go to any brewery website and you will see a calendar of food trucks.  And I may not be a beer connoisseur, but when I drink beer I at least like having the option of some food.

    Anyways, totally agree with the author.  Focus regulations on health and safety.  Anything else is just favoring one interest group or another and limits business competition.

    @AzureMatty Beer trucks exist.  Go to any festival.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    I'm not real big on the food trucks.  When is someone going to have a beer truck??


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