Posts about Food Trucks
DC food trucks have grown in number and quality over the last several years, and are now a lunchtime staple in the District's business corridors. But new regulations would directly undermine food trucks, giving DC workers fewer options and lower-quality food.
Food trucks have been in a state of legal limbo since they first started selling lunches in 2009. Current regulations were meant for other mobile businesses, such as hot dog stands and ice cream trucks. They are not designed for modern food truck practices.
While food trucks register with the District, are inspected for safety and cleanliness, and pay the same 10% tax on sales that restaurants do, many other issues have yet to be settled. For example, food trucks regularly receive expensive parking tickets because they often need to stay at a given location for more than 2 hours.
The currently-proposed regulations are their fourth revision. Rather than focusing public safety, they micromanage when and where individual food trucks can operate. But food trucks have been successful in large part because they quickly respond to consumer needs by changing menus and locations.
Most of downtown would be permanently off-limits under the new regulations, aside from a handful allowed to operate in designated "mobile roadway vending locations."
Locations where food trucks would be allowed or prohibited downtown.
Image from the DC Food Truck Association.
The regulations themselves do not create a single MRV location. Instead, they allow DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to propose locations and the number of food trucks that can operate in each one, subject to review by the District Department of Transportation.
The regulations also allow the director of either agency, on his or her own, "the discretion to propose, modify, or remove a designated MRV location at any time." This does not protect consumers from any actual harm. Given how popular food trucks are, it's not clear which, if any, public interest is being addressed by the regulations.
Helder Gil, DCRA's legislative affairs specialist, has stated that the regulations are an attempt to "find something that works for everyone." This is a misguided goal. Many restaurateurs would prefer a downtown free from competitors, but it makes as much sense to give restaurants input on where food trucks can operate as it does to give food trucks control over prices restaurants can charge.
In heeding the concerns of restaurants, DCRA has strayed from the traditionally-accepted role of crafting regulations to preserve public health by attempting to control competition between businesses.
It's also clear that restaurants and food trucks can coexist. While food trucks have the advantages of mobility, low overhead, and convenience, restaurants have the advantages of seating, climate control, and larger kitchens. When restaurants and food trucks compete for customers by playing to their strengths, consumers win. When businesses thrive by regulating competitors out existence, consumers lose.
DCRA should completely scrap the latest proposed regulations. Instead, simpler regulations should bring food trucks into a legal status without giving local officials power to stifle competition. DCRA should issue a mobile vending license for any truck that meets the already-existing standards for cleanliness and safety.
These licenses should permit trucks to park in any available spot in a commercial zone, allowing them to operate near their customers. The cost of the license, in the range of a few hundred dollars per month, would bring in more revenue than trucks currently pay by feeding parking meters.
By keeping food truck regulations simple and rule-based, we can ensure that restaurants and food trucks compete on an even playing field. By removing discretion from the regulations, we can ensure that consumers, not competitors or officials, are in control.
If you would like to share your input on the proposed food truck regulations, send your thoughts to DCVendingRegs@dc.gov by 5 pm on Monday, April 8th.
Gourmet food trucks, now a common fixture in DC, have started to come to Silver Spring. With them comes many of the same debates, like whether these food options are taking business from restaurants in actual buildings.
Sligo at Silver Spring, Singular worries this is happening in Downtown Silver Spring. Is this a valid concern? Maybe not.
Food trucks are a way to fill retail gaps, figuratively and literally. Successful food trucks are ones that offer something that brick-and-mortar restaurants currently don't. They're also ways to draw hungry customers to areas of downtown Silver Spring that haven't finished developing, which could help the restaurants already there.
Right now, Ellsworth Drive between Fenton and Georgia is the only block in Silver Spring that has shops and restaurants lining it uninterrupted from end to end and on both sides. If I'm an office worker looking for a place to eat lunch, where will I go first? Probably the block where I have as many choices as possible.
I might go to Potbelly today, but tomorrow I'll want to try something new an d go to Chick-Fil-A, and so on. As a result, all of the restaurants benefit from the presence of other restaurants.
Meanwhile, popular restaurants like Jackie's have trouble drawing customers because they're too far away from other stores or restaurants for people to drop by on a whim.
Sligo worries that Skew Works, the new restaurant on Wayne Avenue, could lose business to a food truck that's started parking outside. But there's only one other restaurant on that entire block! Skew Works isn't losing customers to the food truck. They're losing customers to streets with more dining choices.
Restaurants want to draw more customers. We want to create more street activity in downtown Silver Spring. Food trucks seem like a way to kill two birds with one stone.
They're a relatively new addition to Silver Spring, and it's likely that they'll move around until finding locations that work well for them and for customers. But I don't think they'll hurt existing businesses.
With thousands of people living, working and passing through the area each day, there's no shortage of hungry people looking for places to eat. They just need to know where to find them.
DC Council considers primary date, diagonal parking, free school transit, taxi medallions and much more
DC's primary will likely move to April, people will get solar rebates, and bills introduced in the DC Council yesterday could establish a taxi medallion system, make transit free for schoolchildren, add diagonal parking, and put requirements on large retailers like Walmart.
The Council approved the first reading of a bill to move DC's presidential and local primary to April 3 next year. The presidential date allows DC to potentially band together with Maryland and Delaware and get bonus delegates from the political parties, which are trying to incentivize regional primaries after March.
For the local primary, March is more problematic. Since DC's primary essentially determines the winner in races including the mayoral race, a primary at the start of March could mean that one person will hold the seat for 10 more months while another is already virtually certain to take over.
We saw Mayor Fenty essentially stop making significant decisions once he lost the primary, but Gray was not yet mayor to start making any decisions, and so little happened in the government in the interim. Having this last for almost a year is dangerous. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (at-large) and Tommy Wells (ward 6) raised this same objection in the session, but won over no colleagues.
Also during the legislative session, the Council gave those solar rebates to people who had qualified but suddenly found there was no money; unfortunately, this comes out of other sustainable energy funding.
They also delayed a vote on a nominee to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, Gray campaign attorney 1998-2000 DCRA head Lloyd Jordan, in part because of opposition letters from some neighborhood groups.
Sekou Biddle (interim at-large) introduced a bill to make transit free for children traveling to and from school. He argued that this will reduce truancy. It might, but it would also cost money which DC doesn't have, and there was no indication where the money might come from to pay for this.
Harry Thomas, Jr. (ward 5) introduced three car-related bills. A pair of bills asks for regulations to allow diagonal parking in business corridors, when 60% of businesses in an area ask for it, and religious institutions on Sundays, with the approval of the area ANC.
Diagonal parking can be a fine way to fit more parking into an area when there is room on the street that's not already being used. DDOT is proposing this between Tenleytown's Whole Foods and Wilson High, for instance. But in most places in DC where church parking is scarce, there isn't room on the street to add diagonal parking.
Area business corridors, ANCs, and churches should be able to petition DDOT now to consider diagonal parking if they want to. They should also be able to ask DDOT to consider removing parking, or changing a street from one-way to two-way or vice versa, or adding a bike lane.
So yes, diagonal parking should be a part of the overall toolbox, and if DDOT lacks the authority to implement it now, they should get that authority. But diagonal parking will only make sense in a very small number of cases. Thomas talked about holding town halls around his ward, and it's hard not to wonder if he's just introducing this to be able to say he's doing something at those town halls, even if that something is almost always impractical for the specific situation.
On a side note, Thomas seems to be trying to keep the bill from singling out one faith by referring to "religious institutions," but by limiting the rule to Sundays, it does exclude religious institutions which celebrate on Saturdays, for instance.
Another bill that's likely to generate more serious debate is a measure from Thomas, Michael Brown (at-large) and Marion Barry (ward 8) to establish a system of taxicab medallions, with separate categories for DC resident drivers and non-resident drivers, as well as special categories for taxis operating in underserved areas and low-emission (hybrid) taxis. This topic is worth its own, separate post.
Phil Mendelson introduced a pair of bills largely targeted at Wal-Mart. Both apply only to retailers of at least 75,000 square feet, requiring them to negotiate Community Benefits Agreements with their neighborhoods and pay living wages and benefits.
Observers think these have little chance of passing. The bills will go to committees chaired by Thomas and Michael Brown, who both court the union vote but also who have shown little interest in interfering with Walmart's expansion into DC.
Other bills included ones to require food trucks to pay sales tax, as we discussed yesterday, and expand low-income property tax relief, from Jack Evans (ward 2); to publish Council procurement information online, from Chairman Kwame Brown and Mary Cheh (ward 3); to allow L3Cs, a type of hybrid nonprofit/for-profit business entity; and a number of measures from Cheh to improve transparency.
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