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By hour three of today’s D.C. Council hearing on proposed food truck regulations, things weren’t looking so good for the rules as written.
The three councilmembers who appeared at the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs hearing all said the regulations need some work if they’re going to move forward. The problem is that the Council can’t work on them; lawmakers have to vote them up or down without amendments. So the rules—which prompted an aggressive campaign by food trucks to fight them—aren’t likely to become law as proposed immediately.
“If we were to vote today on these regulations, I can tell you these regulations would not pass,” At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange said. “I think we’re almost at the finish line. I’m just trying to get us all the way to score the touchdown.”
Orange, who chairs the committee, said he’s interested in introducing emergency legislation that would allow the Council to amend the regulations, not just vote them up or down. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and At-Large Councilmember David Grosso also said they’d like to see some revisions. Grosso said 80 to 90 percent of the regulations seemed good, but that he wasn’t inclined to support them at this point if he had to vote yes or no.
One area of contention was a last-minute surprise: The Department of Transportation and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs released a map at the hearing (obtained by the Post yesterday evening) that identifies at least 180 parking spots to be allocated by lottery to food trucks to operate as part of special zoned areas. Previously, the agencies hadn’t said anything about how many total parking spots would be available under the regulations, only that the 23 proposed zones would have a minimum of three spots each. The new map shows 19 spots in Farragut Square, 13 spaces in McPherson Square, and 15 spaces around Union Station for food trucks.
But the map and its spot totals aren’t in the regulations as written, which caused some unease from the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington. “We have to evaluate this policy based on what’s in the four corners of this document, not assurances or other people’s good intentions,” said Food Truck Association Political Director Che Ruddell-Tabisola, who also co-owns BBQ Bus. “All we want is clarity and direction.”
Food Truck Association chairman Doug Povich, a co-owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound, said he was still concerned that a lot of the zoned parking spots outlined today by DCRA were not good vending locations. He’d like to see mobile vending zones set up only in over-concentrated areas with a clear process in place to create more in other areas if the need arises. He previously told Y&H that only five areas—Farragut Square, L’Enfant Plaza, Franklin Square, Metro Center, and Union Station—have enough traffic and congestion to warrant a mobile vending zone.
The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, the trade group for more than 700 brick-and-mortar D.C. restaurants, asked the Council to pass the regulations, even though they were not 100 percent satisfied with them, either. (RAMW legislative representative Andrew Kline told the Council he thought 19 spots around Farragut Square was too many, but did not specify what the ideal cap would be.)
RAMW president Kathy Hollinger told Y&H that she was surprised the Food Truck Association would have any problem with the 180 spots. “I think it’s great, because it gives them an opportunity to be in prime locations, but I don’t think it necessarily addresses some of our concerns from a year ago or two years ago,” Hollinger says. RAMW’s main concerns have to do with the potential disruption to public space—and existing businesses—caused by a heavy concentration of trucks.
Hollinger said she was glad that DCRA and DDOT finally gave more clarity on the number of zoned parking spots, but she would have liked to see it at the beginning of the process. “It really could have saved all of us a lot of time trying to do the public information campaign, so to speak, about what these regs really are,” she said. “This roundtable could have looked and been very different had we had that information going in.”
DCRA spokesman Helder Gil says they didn’t release the map until today because it took time to map, survey, and measure areas: “It takes time to get it right. We prefer to get it right, not get it fast.”
The Council’s deadline to make a decision on the regulations is June 22.
Photo by Jessica Sidman