Food trucks are here to stay


Council vote Tuesday means long-sought government acceptance for food trucks. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Updated 3:45 p.m. with comment from Kline and Ribeiro

After more than four years of sometimes rancorous debate, food trucks on Tuesday made a major advance toward becoming a government-sanctioned, street-legal fixture of the District’s culinary scene.

The D.C. Council voted unanimously Tuesday to complete the approval process for regulations setting out where and how food trucks may operate in the city. Since 2009, restaurants on wheels have operated under ad hoc arrangements while industry advocates hammered out permanent rules with city officials and representatives from brick-and-mortar restaurants, some of which have strongly opposed the food trucks’ proliferation.

After the vote Tuesday, however, all sides appeared satisfied with the final product. “I think it was a great team effort,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who hammered out the final compromise. “We’re ready to move forward.”

The approved regulations create special “mobile vending zones” in the most popular downtown vending locations where trucks can apply by lottery for guaranteed spots. Some final tweaks to the rules – shrinking a truck-free “buffer” area around the vending zones; easing a restriction on where trucks could park outside the zones; clarifying the size of the fines levied on violators — passed with little debate Tuesday.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray could veto the bill before a June 22 deadline, throwing the matter back into limbo, but a Gray administration member not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said that is unlikely. “We are currently reviewing the amendments and changes to the regulation,” said spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, in the official administration comment on the matter.

Che Ruddell-Tabisola, political director of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, said that — assuming Gray doesn’t stand in the way of the compromise — the industry’s focus will now turn toward making sure the new regulations work as intended.

That goes as well for traditional restaurants, said Andrew J. Kline of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. ‘We’re certainly pleased to see an overall scheme of regulation,” he said. “We needed a framework; we didn’t have one before.”

All concerned said they are pleased to be moving on to a new phase.

“It was certainly a longer process than anyone anticipated,” said Ruddell-Tabisola, who is also the proprietor of the BBQ Bus. “We’re not over the finish line yet, but I’m certainly happy we’ll be able to get back to selling barbecue sandwiches.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · June 18, 2013