San Juan Bautista Planning Commission. Photo by Robert Eliason.
San Juan Bautista Planning Commission. Photo by Robert Eliason.

A five word agenda item for the April 11 meeting of the San Juan Bautista Planning Commission, “Business Conducted Outdoors/Outdoor Dining,” sparked a contentious two-hour-long dialogue between commission members, Assistant City Manager Brian Foucht, and members of the public regarding recent citations issued by the city to the Hapa Brothers’ food truck. 

Attendees variously expressed their support for the food truck, voiced accusations of targeted code enforcement by the city, and expressed a lack of trust in city hall over recent dealings with several businesses.

Foucht began by explaining allowed examples of outdoor dining in the city, including at special events and festivals within the framework of a special events permit or when outdoor dining is allowed in association with an existing business. 

“The city does not allow, by ordinance, mobile food vendors to operate on its streets,” he said. “There is also a restriction on where outdoor dining can occur even with a business that has been established. And you can have outdoor dining, but you need to be associated with a business on the same site.”

Commissioner Dan Devries and Foucht went back and forth regarding a city citation to Hapa Brothers which referred to three different parts of the city code. DeVries said two of the codes—operating in public streets or city property—did not apply at all. 

“But the first introduction I had to this business was that they wanted to operate not on private property but in general. And they would apply to that circumstance,” Foucht said.

According to Hapa Brothers co-owner Aaron Ricketts, the food truck has been working out of Vertigo’s parking lot, not on the street or on city property.

In regards to the third code referenced on the citation, which refers to outside dining needing to have a city permit, DeVries asked Foucht if he had looked at Vertigo’s conditional use permit prior to issuing the citation and made a determination as to whether it accommodates food trucks. Foucht answered, “I don’t believe they [Vertigo] have a use permit. Not every restaurant requires a use permit. I don’t believe the way that business is being conducted has required a use permit. I am willing to be corrected.”

The bulk of the meeting was taken up by public comment, which became increasingly confrontational as around 20 residents and members of the business community spoke up for the brothers.  

Ricketts said that he and his brother have been welcomed in other towns and counties, and does not understand why they are being prevented from doing business in their own hometown.

“I hate the tension that is in this room right now,” he said. “The Hapa Brothers, to me, is a happy thing, and San Juan loves the Hapa Brothers. But this has taken an emotional toll on me and my family. We are being targeted and attacked in a very unprofessional manner. We are simply asking for a business license. That’s it. We are willing to work with the city, but nothing seems straightforward.”

Foucht disputed Ricketts’ contention that the city had refused to work with the Hapa Brothers, saying he had offered to sit down with them to discuss it.

Jarad Gallegher, the owner of The Smoke Point, spoke via Zoom, saying he did not know the Hapa Brothers or their families, but thought that there were certain points about the situation that were “deplorable,” saying that actions by the city had to be “preemptive,” “consistent,” and “compounded on trust.”

“If you walk up to their truck, you will see there is a Santa Clara permit,” he said. “That shows these are people who understand and know what they need to do. Vertigo has been doing this for a while, but here at this meeting, we hear that we don’t know who is responsible or what we are citing people for.”

City manager Don Reynolds also attended by Zoom to emotionally defend city hall, saying it was their job to uphold every law in San Juan Bautista. 

“The law says ‘X, Y, and Z,’ so we have to enforce ‘X, Y, and Z,’” Reynolds said. “But these are all responses to citizens complaining, and we don’t have time to invent problems. But I am listening and taking notes.”

Foucht followed Reynolds by saying that the city had been careful to enforce regulations without bias and that creating exceptions would undermine the city’s ability to enforce the law equally.  

Later in the meeting Ricketts said that the “energy” from the city was not approachable, and he did not understand why the city was so “fired up against” him.  

When asked by DeVries, Ricketts said he had attempted to get a San Juan business license, but was handed some by-laws and told he could not get one.

Ricketts stated he would not again be in a closed room with “certain people,” but that he would be willing to work with commission chairman Jose Aranda to find a solution, Aranda offered to mediate between Ricketts and the city.



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