WEST VALLEY CITY Taco stands here could be cleaner, safer and more scarce if a proposed ordinance makes it through the City Council on Tuesday.
But at least one council member Mike Winder wants to consider banning the mobile food vendors altogether, saying that the city shouldn't resign itself to blight and junkiness.
Meanwhile, Mayor Dennis Nordfelt wondered during a council business meeting why the city can't rely on the free market to regulate the stands.
The new rules have been in the making since the council passed a moratorium on the stands in March. If passed, the ordinance would require stands to fall in line with the fire code and would reiterate health code requirements, making them more enforceable by city officials.
They ordinance would also limit the total number of licenses to 15, though 23 cart businesses are now licensed in the city. The 23 carts would keep their licenses but wouldn't be able to transfer them or regain them after closing until fewer than 15 other businesses are operating.
The issue came to a head after Salt Lake City tightened its rules for the mobile carts, requiring them to have signed contracts for bathroom facilities with nearby businesses. A flood of license permits from displaced capital city vendors hit West Valley City Hall, and many carts started business without licenses of any kind, said West Valley City Council member Carolyn Burt.
"I understand they're poor and they're struggling and my heart goes out to them," she said but added that the city has a responsibility to protect its businesses from being overrun. "I don't want to see junky people who are not licensed come in to the city and be able to
set up and look really bad."
Burt, a former restaurant owner, also said the Salt Lake Valley Health Department lacks the funding and manpower to enforce its rules, even for restaurants. There is no way they can enforce the code for stands that can just pack up and leave, she said.
Health department food protection supervisor Tom Trevino said the stands are inspected when they apply for business licenses and at least annually thereafter. The mobile carts have not resulted in more food-borne illness than traditional restaurants, he said, though they are closed more often for problems like insufficient hand-washing facilities.
Hot food carts throughout the county are required to pack up and leave the streets overnight. They must be stored at a commercial kitchen where they can deposit gray water and use three-compartment sanitization sinks.
Fruit and ice cream stands are governed by a different part of the law and wouldn't be affected under West Valley City's proposal.
Winder favors an outright ban because, in part, he doesn't want to further burden West Valley code enforcers, he said. And the city should have the same high standards as places like Park City, which outlaws the carts unless they are connected to an established restaurant.
Many other cities around the valley grant only temporary licenses to mobile food stands and most don't allow them on public property. Some cities, such as Riverton, have no ordinance dealing with the carts.
"Health, safety and blight issues to me are not cultural issues they are quality of life issues," Winder said.
Cindy Allred manages Tastee's Cafe and Mobile in West Valley City, which houses about 15 taco carts each night."I think as long as it's not causing any public nuisance, people have a right to come into America and open a business," she said. "I don't really see what it hurts. It's a small business like any other."