More than 1,400 comments have been submitted so far over the city’s proposed vending regulations, and the majority support the new legion of food trucks on Washington’s streets, notes Helder Gil, legislative affairs specialist with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
“The comments are overwhelmingly pro-food truck,” he says.
Of the 1,430-plus comments submitted to DCRA, only about 80 have rallied behind the bricks-and-mortar restaurant community in its battle with food trucks over public spaces and the public’s lunch dollar, Gil says. The rest support mobile vending.
It’s hard to read too much into those number yet, Gil is quick to point out. First of all, DCRA on Friday extended the comment deadline to 5 p.m. Thursday, March 1. Second, many of the pro-restaurant groups, whether the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington or the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, have not submitted comments yet.
More than anything, though, the disparity of support may be an issue of Web savviness. The D.C. Food Truck Association and its allies may simply be more skilled at marshaling its Twitter-happy online supporters to flood DCRA’s inbox or, conversely, the RAMW may not have the online presence to push supporters to submit comments. Regardless, Gil notes, the vast major of comments so far are just the cut-and-paste variety generated by Web-based petitions, not by those who have actively reviewed the regulations and measured their potential impact.
One group, the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District, did submit detailed comments today. They weren’t exactly a Valentine to food trucks. Among its objections, the BID wrote:
“We recommend that DCRA and DDOT [District Department of Transportation] pre-approve locations for mobile vending” to ensure that, among other things, [i]n high density areas with limited parking, mobile vendors should be limited to make sure that some parking spaces are always available for other users.”
There’s also a sense among some that the battle is being fought behind the scenes. Food truck operators are nervous that RAMW and others may be working the mayor’s office and other city officials to declare mobile vending illegal under current regulations.
On the other side, though, there is the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice, which has been suing jurisdictions over attempts to create laws that protect the interests of private business, namely bricks-and-mortar restaurants over food trucks. The institute's efforts have been successful in the past. Now it’s focusing its attention on Washington and the city’s proposed vending regulations.
It would appear that battle plans are just now being drafted in the war over Washington’s street food. The biggest skirmishes may be yet to come.