Sept. 25 2013 08:58 AM

Food trucks entangled in Todd Gloria's pot-dispensary net

Todd Gloria
Photo by David Rolland

When interim mayor Todd Gloria sat down on Sept. 3 for his first meeting with Walt Ekard and Scott Chadwick, the top two holdovers from former Mayor Bob Filner's administration, one of the topics of discussion was what to do about laws that weren't being enforced under Filner's reign. Mainly on the men's minds was the thorny issue of medicinal marijuana, but, according to the way Gloria's office tells it, the less-thorny issue of food-truck regulation got swept up in the net.

The decision made that day, Gloria spokesperson Katie Keach says, was by-the-book enforcement of the city's zoning laws, and for better or worse, it's been decided that there's no legal way to distribute medicinal marijuana in San Diego. That's simply because medicinal-marijuana distribution isn't an expressly permitted land use. Through Keach, Gloria reminds CityBeat that Filner himself, back in January, having previously vowed to look the other way as marijuana dispensaries did their business, reversed course after a closed-door meeting with city attorneys and the City Council and declared, along with Gloria and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, that zoning laws would be enforced. The thing is, Filner didn't follow through.

That was fine with us, of course. There are enough people who need marijuana for legitimate medicinal purposes that we have no problem with that particular policy of looking the other way. That's why weren't thrilled when Gloria announced right after he took over the Mayor's office that the city would start enforcing its enforcement policy.

Gloria says he's eager to bring a marijuana-distribution ordinance to the City Council that would establish a framework for people to get the medicine safely and legally, and he has some degree of credibility on the issue—he's advocated for a more liberal ordinance regulating distribution than his colleagues on the City Council. Keach is quick to point out that Gloria supported an admittedly restrictive dispensary ordinance in 2011 that was passed by the council but repealed under threat of a ballot measure sponsored by medicinal-marijuana advocates. In April, the council rejected a more liberal proposal from Filner and asked for a new proposal that would be even more restrictive than the 2011 ordinance. Keach says Filner's office dragged its feet on bringing one back.

So, that's where we are—waiting for the interim Mayor's office now to submit an ordinance to the City Council that'll meet the council's requirements. That's expected to happen in January, which seems awfully far down the road for people who won't have access to marijuana now that city will truly be enforcing zoning law.

Meanwhile, that enforcement will occur based on complaints. Keach says the city doesn't know how many dispensaries are currently open, but she says 43 neighborhood code compliance cases are either open or have been investigated and closed. So, in the world of medicinal marijuana, complaints are relatively frequent.

By comparison, complaints against food trucks are infrequent, but they happen. Keach says that since Gloria took over, the city's received two complaints against a single food truck parked on El Cajon Blvd. in North Park and one complaint against a food truck parked near City Hall, Downtown.

It sounds like food trucks got entangled in the effort to contain marijuana dispensaries, because they're operating illegally in the same way—they're not expressly permitted on private property, even if by permission from the property owner. You'll need to pardon the food-truck industry for suspecting that Gloria was acting at the behest of the San Diego chapter of the powerful California Restaurant Association—after all, local restaurants have complained about mobile food vendors eating into their profits.

Like with pot distribution, Gloria wants to put forth an ordinance regulating food trucks on private property, but unlike with pot distribution, there's no time frame for that to happen.

As long as they're safe, the food-truck business is great for San Diego—we've seen firsthand at event after event how much people love them. Disallowing trucks because there's nothing in writing that specifically allows them seems awfully frivolous to us—just as it does with medicinal marijuana—and we're worried that Gloria has publicly swung opened the gates for complaints and, consequently, enforcement.

In any case, both of these issues must be fixed as soon as possible.

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