Thursday, July 25, 2013

Food truck ordinance passes City Council

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 6:35 PM

At today's New Orleans City Council meeting, council members passed an update to the city's mobile vending laws to allow for more food trucks and less strict regulations.

Let's recap:

The current laws, first drafted in the 1950s, cap active vendor permits to 100, limit operating time to 45 minutes, and prevent trucks from operating within 600 feet of restaurants and schools. Stacy Head held a public meeting in October 2012 to kickstart discussions about what a food truck friendly ordinance would look like. The New Orleans Food Truck Coalition joined the discussion to help draft legislation to promote those businesses.

In January, Head wanted to increase permits from 100 to 200 and shrink the "no vendors" zone to 50 feet while a restaurant is open. She introduced her measure January 24, and a Food Truck Coalition petition to update mobile vending laws gathered hundreds of signatures — meanwhile, restaurant owner Reuben Laws gathered signatures for another online petition to halt any new mobile vending legislation.

In February, the measure went before council's economic development committee, where coalition attorney Andrew Legrand said its opponents in the Louisiana Restaurant Association are running a "fear-based campaign" about food truck health and safety while it's more afraid of possible competition from mobile vendors. City health commissioner Karen DeSalvo said she fears changing legislation outpaces health code updates. Head called the health concerns a red herring — she produced a letter from state Department of Heath and Hospitals that said, "Our office will continue to inspect all food establishments and enforce the state's sanitary code, regardless of business model."

In March, council members held yet another public meeting on food trucks, and council considered "restroom requirements" and questions of Equal Protection clause constitutionality over proximity restrictions on where trucks can operate.

In April, Head responded to Clarkson's request for the state Department of Health and Hospitals to continue random inspections, and Head admitted to working on parts of the measure to accommodate her opponents, including restroom requirements and a 100 feet proximity restriction. The following day, on April 18, and after considerable debate, the measure passed the full City Council.

A few weeks later, Mayor Mitch Landrieu vetoed it. In a letter clerk of council, he wrote, "Both the author of the ordinance and its principal proponent have publicly stated their belief that elements of the adopted ordinance as amended may be unconstitutional. ... Further, the City Attorney has raised Equal Protection concerns and opined that this ordinance would not withstand a legal challenge. It would be unwise to sign this ordinance into law in its current form when it appears certain that it will be invalidated by the court. ... My veto notwithstanding, I strongly support Councilmember At-Large Head and the City Council’s efforts to update the City Code regulations pertaining to itinerant vendors, including those governing frozen seafood, vegetable and fruit, and food trucks. ... Accordingly, I have directed my staff to work with the Council to immediately address this issue and develop changes which will result in mobile food vending laws which are legal, fair, enforceable and best serve the industry and the people of New Orleans."

Head attempted a "short-term relief" measure, which was scuttled. She responded to Landrieu's veto and requested working on a compromise measure both parties could agree on.

Yesterday, council members held a special economic development committee meeting to review Landrieu's proposed ordinance, which does not include any proximity requirement. At the meeting, Clarkson asked members of the Landrieu administration if removing the proximity requirement would be fair to brick-and-mortar restaurants. "What about economic protection of the largest industry in our city? Are you concerned about that as a lawsuit?” she asked. Landrieu’s cultural economy advisor Scott Hutcheson reminded Clarkson that food trucks are a part of that industry. Clarkson replied, “I know, but are we prioritizing?”

At today's full City Council meeting, Clarkson proposed an amendment to include a 100 feet requirement, but she withdrew it, finding no support for the amendment from other council members.

The new ordinance also allows 100 food truck permits. The current cap is 75. Council members also passed an amendment for food truck operators to post public notices of their permit application, so neighborhoods could “weigh in” on their approval, Clarkson said. It also creates a "franchise " permit requiring additional fees and City Council approval to allow trucks into previously prohibited areas, like the Central Business District.

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