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Thread: Mobile food vendor trucks

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Mobile food vendor trucks

    We have several of these but it never became a problem until one was put on a street that a Council member drives to work on. Now he wants them outright banned, citing numerous nearby suburbs that ban them. We are not a suburb and have a sizable Hispanic population (all trucks serve Mexican food) so our built environment is completely different. I've been directed to bring up the topic for discussion at our next Commission meeting.

    What are your thoughts on this topic?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    The first question is whether or not they're on the public R.O.W. If so, simple enough to prohibit and relatively easy to justify.

    On the other hand, if they're the type that drives up to a job site/workplace and vend from private property that's a tougher proposition.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    How mobile are these? When you say put on the street, has it stayed there since? Our traffic code would require this to be removed form the street if it's not truly "mobile".

    If they're the typical "roach coaches" that go from job site to job site and one day was on your councilmember's street, don't know how you regulate that. So goes the ice cream truck person.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    My first thought is that I love street food vendors and mobile food trucks. I've never understood why people have issues with them other than ensuring that they follow health regulations and don't impact traffic/sidewalk flows. I suppose this is because my father was in construction and I have fond memories of the lunch truck pulling up to the construction site when I would occasionally visit as a kid (a truck that brings you food?!?!? Awesome!).

    I remember an article about food trucks in Los Angeles being given their own spot to park at and serve food (found it here). I also remember hearing about street food vendors in Singapore being given their own spots to congregate in "Hawker centers". Then there was one of my favorite food spots in Tampa, the "Taco Bus", which was a real bus parked in a parking lot that long ago lost its ability to move.

    I guess the best solution would be to give mobile food vendors of all kinds a place or places to pull over and sell their food. That way you are allowing people to work and be entrepeneurial in a down economy, mitigating traffic flow issues, and ensuring that you and your health inspectors know where the vendors are likely to be.

    BTW, if your Council member wants to ban "mobile food vendors," does that mean ice cream trucks as well? I don't see how it could be illegal to sell a sandwich from a truck but legal to sell an ice cream cone. Does he/she really want to be the one to stop kids from eating ice cream?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    In short, the food vendors can be on one spot for up to 7 days per month. It has to be commercial or industrial. Anything longer than 7 days and it must meet building code. The ones by the industrial sites and the Hispanic neighborhood have never caused a problem, but a new one opened up in a more "established" part of town and it has the nearby residents claiming foul.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Its unfortunate that you have a Council member that is so opposed to food trucks. This is a common attitude, though and I'm not sure why. They are viewed as "dirty" and maybe people (especially in the suburban areas you mentioned) are bothered by the social activity it creates. People on the street milling about - so unsightly!

    Food trucks are a great entrepreneurial business, as JimPlans mentioned. Once the hurdle of the equipment and permits are covered, materials costs (ie. raw food) is very low. I loved the many food trucks around campus when I was in college. It was also a great way to interact with immigrants from all over the world (not all food truck owners are immigrants, of course, but where I went to school, most were). Africans, southeast Asians, Chinese, Middle Easterners. Latin Americans. It was a veritable United Nations of cuisine. I would think in this particular economic climate, supporting such an entrepreneurial would be a great idea.

    Some resources:
    Here is an article about food trucks in Boston. Well, really just a blog interview. But it talks of permitting details and cites some other cities with vendor-friendly policies that you might look to.

    Also, I think you could find some literature in support of them on the Project for Public Spaces site. They probably have some decent arguments in favor.

    You also could look up some of the many articles that abound about the reasons various City Councils have considered or succeeded in banning the. This would give you an idea of the substance of the objections. A simple google search will result in a lot of articles. I seacrhed "food trucks city council" and found a ton.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Our "anti-peddling" reg's encompass roach coaches and ice cream trucks vending from the public r.o.w. There's never been any outcry to accomodate ice cream trucks and when the occaisional resident petitions the town board for a change, the specter of somebody selling velvet wall hangings of elvis or poker playing dogs from the roadside is sufficient to disuade the resident.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    They are viewed as "dirty" and maybe people (especially in the suburban areas you mentioned) are bothered by the social activity it creates. People on the street milling about - so unsightly!
    Thanks. This is a tough issue because we are about 30% Hispanic. The people that frequent these vendors (myself included) are not the ones calling Council members in support of them. What makes it more complicated is that someone complained to the City Manager and he told the man to stop vending and the day before I was there and told him he could be open as per city code so I have some egg on my face. So now we have the administration saying one thing and telling me to make sure he stays closed when the code specifically says he can be open. I'm just not sure how I should proceed... enforce the code or how I am directed by the administration...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I think a compromise is in order. The mobile food vendors do need to be curtailed, but the answers are greater regulations and license restrictions that ensure said vendors add to a streetscape, rather than detracting from it, and that they do not unfairly compete with permanent restaurants.

    Disney theme parks are a great example of the damage outdoor vendors can do. Because of their low overhead and high visibility, they can ruin the business of permanent shops and restaurants, which, invariably, do not earn as much. For this reason, cities should insist upon higher licensing fees that reflect use of the public realm.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    The September 2010 issue of Portland Monthly magazine had a big piece on food carts (which are broadly defined) in Portland and how they contribute to the urban scene: http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/issues/archives/76/

    I'm working on an ordinance to allow and encourage them, not ban them. But I expect to be shot down by the established restaurant owners. Education will be the key.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    The September 2010 issue of Portland Monthly magazine had a big piece on food carts (which are broadly defined) in Portland and how they contribute to the urban scene: http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/issues/archives/76/

    I'm working on an ordinance to allow and encourage them, not ban them. But I expect to be shot down by the established restaurant owners. Education will be the key.
    In a city I worked for previously I wrote a reg to encourage these while regulating them and exactly this happened. The restaurant owners were livid, I was shot down at the public hearing and everything interesting and worthwhile about what we were writing was removed. We were a large day-time employment sector (fairly industrial in nature) and they made perfect sense. It was disappointing. I hope you fare better than I did, Otis. Good luck.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  12. #12
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    The place I interned at ran into this problem about a year or two ago. Several people inquired about it and so staff had several meetings. Once we got staff from property maintenance, the police, and the administration involved (including the manager, who's at the mercy of the board), it was all down-hill from there.

    I'm in the camp that understands the importance of food vendors to a local economy and to enhancing public spaces like the downtown area and the parks and am in favor of a well-regulated system that addresses all concerns while still allowing for some vendors. But a lot of people think it's too much of a hassle, I guess. They didn't even allow ice cream trucks for that same very reason. Roach coaches are the only thing allowed since they are on private property.

    I was in favor of a system that would limit food vendors to a select few locations in the downtown area and the parks, as well as a select number of ice cream trucks, and if there was heavy interest by food vendors such that the number of interested parties exceeded the number of available slots, then we would create a bidding system, and the highest bidders get those slots. The winning vendors would have to follow all regulations put into place and meet all health codes.

    But I think most people thought it wasn't worth the trouble.
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