Back in January, the Mayor’s office announced newly proposed food truck legislation that aims to update the more than 30-year-old laws regarding street vending. With the period for public comments ending tomorrow, I spoke with some of the food truck owners in the city about their thoughts on the legislation and what they hope will happen next. If you haven’t sent your comments to the Mayor’s Office and the DCRA yet, you can do so by sending an email to DCVendingRegs@dc.gov by March 1, 5 PM. Those of you that stand with the food trucks can show support by heading to www.passnewregs.org and submitting a letter to the Mayor from there.
After the jump you’ll find more about legislation and what I learned from the food truck owners. And if you’re really curious, you can read the full proposal here (all 67 pages).
According to Che Ruddell-Tabisola, co-owner of the BBQ Bus and Executive Director of the DC Food Truck Association, the newly proposed regulations resulted from 2010 proposals based on input from food trucks, District residents, business owners and business and community groups. As outlined in the original press release issued by the Mayor’s office, here’s what the new laws would do:
- “Trucks preparing and selling food would have to park in a legal spot, pay the meter, and can remain there for as long as allowed by the meter or posted parking rules.”
- “Trucks selling ice cream and desserts would have to park in a legal spot, pay the meter, and can remain there for as long as they have a line of waiting customers or for no more than 10 minutes when customers are not waiting.”
- “Allow the permitting of new sidewalk vending locations throughout the District while grandfathering in existing, long-time vendors at their current locations.”
- “Allow the creation of new Vending Development Zones, which would allow local communities to design plans best tailored for their needs that could include sidewalk vendors, food trucks and farmers’ markets.”
- “Update and expand the ability of DCRA to issue citations for violations of the regulations to ensure vendors clean up any litter and maintain all required health and business licenses.”
- “Clarify street-photography provisions around street vendors to make clear they are not applicable to journalists or photography enthusiasts.”
“While not perfect, the proposed new food truck regulations are an improvement over current rules, which were written more than 30 years ago and allow, among other things, for a food truck to be fined/shut down by police if it does not have a waiting line of customers,” said Ruddell-Tabisola. Co-owner of the DC Empanadas truck, Anna Bran-Leis, agreed that she would like to see the DC City Council eventually pass the proposed legislation.
However, several aspects of the proposed laws could pose a threat to how food trucks operate. For example, ice cream and dessert trucks still have to abide by the antiquated rules that they must not be parked for more than 10 minutes without a line of customers. It seems like such a rule wouldn’t serve much of a purpose other than to pay homage to the original laws that were created in a time before social media and when most “food trucks” of the era were limited to ice cream trucks.
Another concerning element of the proposed legislation is the idea of “vending development zones,” which could be used to ban food trucks from certain neighborhoods. “I’m fearful they will be used to actually limit vending opportunities,” says Brian Farrell, co-owner of the Basil Thyme truck. “While the language on Vending Development Zones says the contrary (that VDZ’s can only be used to expand opportunities), there is no definition offered as to what that current opportunity is.” Farrell added that he was concerned that neighborhoods could be assigned a limited number of parking spaces for food trucks to operate from at a given time. “In my view, the rights of the many who line up at trucks each day to have good food choices (many trucks serve 60 to 100+ people a day)–far outweigh the one parking spot we each take up. There are 13,000 managed parking spots in DC. There are less than 100 trucks.”
The third concern addressed in a press release from the DCFTA is in regards to operating hours. Under the proposed legislation, food trucks would have to close at 10 PM on weekdays and 1 AM on weekends–hours that restaurants and bars in the city aren’t subject to.
One thing the food truck owners and operators make clear is that they’re not looking for any sort of pass or special treatment to operate under. “Ideally, I’d like to see trucks and restaurants both prosper,” says Farrell. “I’m hoping trucks’ different service model helps elevate the entire culinary game in DC.” In an op-ed on Huffington Post by Leland Morris, co-owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound Truck, stated, “The more enlightened restaurant owners have told us that if you’re good at what you do, food trucks don’t represent competition; if you’re not so good at what you do, food trucks should spur you to do better.” For the food truck operators, it’s more than possible for restaurants and food trucks to co-exist in the same city harmoniously and even prompt one another to strive to serve better food.
Like restaurants throughout the city, food trucks are subject to some of the same rules already. “Food truck rules should be made in the interest of public health and safety, and we currently follow a number of rules with that purpose,” said Bran-Leis. “Food trucks must meet the same health and safety requirements as brick-and-mortar restaurants. For example, food truck operators must be certified food protection managers in order to become a licensed vendor, and our mobile kitchens are inspected by the Department of Health twice a year (which is twice as often as brick-and-mortar restaurants). In addition to our mobile kitchens, food trucks must also maintain a brick-and-mortar commercial kitchen where we store and prepare food and that is also regularly inspected by the Department of Health.”
After the comments on the legislation are closed, the DCFTA and food truck owners hope that the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs will hold a hearing about the proposed new food truck regulations, said Ruddell-Tabisola and Bran-Leis. “The Food Trucks Association looks forward to participating in that hearing,” added Bran-Leis. Final regulations will have to be approved by the DC City Council before they can take effect.
Head to www.passnewregs.org to show your support for the food trucks and the improvements in the proposed legislation or send your thoughts to DCVendingRegs@dc.gov by March 1, 5 PM.