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Posted at 01:05 PM ET, 01/12/2012

Impending food truck crackdown?


New parking enforcement could threaten food trucks’ livelihood. (Gerald Martineau - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
UPDATED 2:25 P.M.

Kyle Johnson, who blogs at foodtruckfiesta.com, writes today that D.C’s burgeoning food truck industry has been threatened with a new city crackdown.

“District officials,” he writes, have told truck owners “they will be ticketing food trucks that don’t have a line formed in front of them.”

He continues:

District officials were allowing 15 minutes between customers, but starting tomorrow, they will have no time frame! The fine is also set at $50, but escalates with every violation (so, I’m guessing that’s where the $1,000 figure comes from). This means that if MPD rolls up and sees a truck with no line, they are immediately fined $50 and told to pack things up and go home. To add insult to injury, if a truck racks up 17 of these violations in one year, they can have their license revoked.

Linda Grant, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, which handles parking enforcement, said her agency “asks food truck vendors to follow the same regulations as anyone else” but is not engaging in new enforcement efforts. Spokesmen for the city’s transportation and regulatory affairs departments say they are not participating in any new enforcement actions.

Sgt. David Schlosser — a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, which enforces laws on federal parkland, including Farragut and McPherson squares downtown — said any new enforcement is “not on my radar screen.”

As for the D.C. police, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump says the department “does not have any plans for new enforcement on this issue.”

The backdrop of all this is ongoing uncertainty about the regulation of food trucks, which are under fire from the bricks-and-mortar restaurants they compete with. New regulations governing the operations of food trucks have been drafted but not yet approved.

Last month, after a previous parking ticket dustup, DPW issued a statement saying it “enforces parking regulations to encourage turnover in metered parking spaces. . . .This enforcement is in response to strong competition for legal curbside parking and reflects the needs of residents, businesses and the motoring public.”

UPDATE, 2:25 P.M.: Kristi Whitfield, proprietor of Curbside Cupcakes and executive director of the D.C. Food Truck Association, said she was told this week by the police department’s lead vending enforcement officer that “heightened enforcement” of the city’s vending laws “are going to be a top priority” starting Friday.

“The question is, why?” she said. “We know new regulations have been written. Why is MPD being directed to enforce something this administration has already deemed to be irrelevant?”

The current vending rules are aimed at ice-cream trucks and the like and prevent mobile food businesses from remaining in one location for a period of time without a line of customers present. The new regulations would likely change that.

But Whitfield expressed frustration Thursday that the new rules have been in limbo. “We don’t know what to do here,” she said. “We thought we knew the process, but the process is being changed.”

But there appears to be some movement: A senior aide to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said Thursday that the new regulations will be published in the Jan. 20 edition of the D.C. Register.

Helder Gil, a lawyer and spokesman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said a 30-day public comment period will follow. After the agency decides whether to make tweaks based on those comments, they will be forwarded to the D.C. Council, which, pursuant to law, will have to pass a resolution approving them.

The whole process, Gil said, is likely to take several months.

UPDATE, 5:05 P.M.: Gray’s office tweeted the following this afternoon:

By  |  01:05 PM ET, 01/12/2012

 
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