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Food Truck Fracas: City Councillors Cantrell, Clarkson Grill Mobile Vendors on Reform Laws


The proposed changes to the city regulations governing food trucks were on the griddle again today at City Hall as the effort to change the City's laws the govern food trucks and other mobile food vendors went back before a City Council committee. The kitchen got a little hotter for the coalition of food trucks, supporters, and Councilmember Stacy Head, as two of the Council President's fellow members put forward questions about the regulations during a two-hour Q&A session.

 

“I thought this would have been a no-brainer, I didn’t think it was going to be this difficult,” said Councilmember Stacy Head of the food truck changes.

 

The reason for today's hearing was to address questions specifically raised by Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson and District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell over proximity to other restaurants, restroom and sanitation accommodations, insurance requirements, and the quantity of permits allowed for the pilot program. New concerns were also raised over the quality aesthetic of a food truck's appearance.

 

Clarkson's biggest concern centered around the 100 ft. restriction that a food truck is allowed to operate from a brick-and-mortar restaurant. In revisions to the proposed food truck ordinance last month, Head already modified the distance a food truck could set up from 50 ft. to the century mark. But Clarkson didn't think the changes were enough.

“I’m not happy with the footage requirement and while I won’t offer a footage distance, I don’t believe 100 ft. is enough, and think that it infringes on private property rights,” said Chairwoman Jackie Clarkson.

 

Restaurants' objections to a food truck set up are a key factor in this months long battle. Claiming unfair competition in respect to property, tax and marketing investment, restaurants who were represented at a past hearing by the Louisiana Restaurant Association assert that they will lose business. A food truck is able to sell lower cost offerings because they do not incur the same level of financial burden that a storefront does, the LRA argued. While some restaurants and coffee shops are in support of a food truck operating within their reach, most would like to not chance that threat.

 

Councilmember Cantrell also offered up an amendment to the current "restricted area" to include the entirety of Andrew Higgins due to concerns that the food trucks would caused increased traffic congestion around the museum district.  As it stands, food trucks are prohibited from operating in the majority of the CBD and French Quarter, the BioMedical district, Frenchmen, the Marigny (Frenchmen Street below Royal Street) and in residential areas. The current proposed ordinance makes the Biomedical District, the Treme, and the CBD fair game for mobile vendors, with the exception of the area of the CBD between Poydras St. and Howard Ave. With the added alteration proposal, the restricted area map once again goes back to the drawing board.

 

Taking up a majority of the discussion was the sanitation situation. Clarkson questioned whether the trucks are operating in sanitary conditions, and the food truck coalition whole-heartedly agreed.

 

“We are on the same page; public health and safety are a primary concern.” Said Food Truck Coalition President and La Cocinita owner Rachel Billow.

 

Questions arose about whether there will be public hand sanitation receptacles available, and whether there would be a requirement of a restroom facility within a certain area of the food truck for the truck’s employees.  Following current DHH regulations already in place, a food truck must have a hand sanitation sink for the interior of the food truck for food truck operators, but not on the exterior for public use. The FTC argues this is an unnecessary expense to the food truck operator as no other city’s legislation carries such a requirement. The DHH requires food trucks to follow the same health code as restaurants for inspection purposes but has no specific code established for food trucks themselves.  Councilmember Head expressed frustration over the DHH’s unwillingness to publicly say the current health code is adequate enough to cover food trucks as well as restaurants. With the DHH currently making changes to the code, it is unable to specifically address the food trucks at this time.

“I’m concerned the DHH is using the restaurant changes as an excuse to not get involved and not get political,” lamented Head.

 

No agreement was reached on whether there would be an added requirement for an exterior sink.

 

Another aspect opposed by the FTC is the requirement of restroom proximity to the food truck’s set up.  While no requirement is actually in place, Councilmember Head has proposed a 600 ft. proximity requirement to a public or establishment restroom.  Other members of the City Council, including Clarkson, agreed with this inclusion. The FTC contended this would make food service in the city’s food deserts such as the Lower 9th Ward almost impossible and is on the whole an unnecessary.  This new development adds yet another obstacle to overcome in the battle for common ground.

 

With food trucks being not only a vehicle but a mobile business, there is a proposed requirement that the trucks carry liability insurance of $250,000 for protection purposes.  Food trucks be held to the same standard as storefront establishments and vice versa, Head said.

 

"What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, so ganders, get that insurance," Head said, implying that restaurants also be required to carry similar insurance protection.  In addition, she proposed raising the amount of liability protection from $250,000 to $500,000.

 

 

For the members of the FTC, ensuring that their community will be allowed to grow and prosper is being limited by a restriction on the amount of permits made available for new food trucks and entrepreneurs to operate.  Right now, there are only 100 pilot program permits for street food vendors (excluding push-carts).  The FTC would like to see that restriction either lifted or have more permits be allotted to encourage the expansion of food trucks in the city.  Head stated that that part of the proposal may be changed, but offered no insight into the intended amendment compromise.

 

Shock rang through the members of the FTC at one point during the meeting when Councilmember Cantrell inquired on if an appearance requirement should be addressed and added into the legislation.

 

“We all know our food trucks have their own funky style, but what about a certain facade requirement to ensure an aesthetic standard?” said Cantrell.

 

Citing the taxicab exterior appearance requirements implemented in March, 2012, Cantrell made the argument that certain uniformity would be a positive addition to make sure the food truck community sets itself apart from carnival-type food vendors.

 

“No, we don’t want our food trucks to turn into a group of carnies.” agreed Head.

 

Billow was slightly aghast at the prospect of having to adhere to an appearance requirement, as each truck is known for its own personal style and unique decoration.  One more problem on the plate to chew on for the FTC.

 

Today’s meeting made no real headway toward resolving a passable bill. The meeting ended in a stalemate with more questions posed and more left unanswered.

 

This article was written by Sarah Esenwein. Contact the author at sarahe@noladefender.com.




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