D.C. committee recommends the city reject street vending regulations

May 30, 2013

A D.C. Council committee is expected to recommend on Friday that the city reject the proposed vending regulations that food truck owners have argued would cripple their budding industry.

Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said Thursday that not only would his committee recommend the D.C. Council reject the regulations but that he would introduce emergency legislation next week that could allow the council to amend the proposed rules. Now, the council can only approve, reject or take no action on the regulations.

Orange said that he wants to delete or modify at least two provisions in the proposed regulations, which are the fourth set that the District has published since the city was tasked with creating the street-vending rules in 2009.

One provision is the 500-foot buffer around the District’s proposed mobile roadway vending, or MRV, zones, where food trucks would be allowed to sell meals for four continuous hours if they secure one of the prized parking spots via a monthly lottery. Orange would like to reduce the buffer, allowing trucks that don’t win a lottery spot to vend within 200 feet of the zones.

The chairman would also like to do away with the provision that requires 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk next to every parking spot outside the MRV zones in the Central Business District. The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington has argued that between the 500-foot buffer and the 10-foot sidewalk rule, most of the Central Business District would be off limits to mobile vendors who don’t secure spots in the MRVs.

The committee’s recommendation to kill the regulations generated wildly different reactions from the food truck group, which led a public campaign to kill the rules, and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, which has championed them.

“It’s a victory really for the city,” said Che Ruddell-Tabisola, the food truck association’s political director. “All we want is regulations that are fair.”

RAMW president Kathy Hollinger issued a statement that the group is “disappointed” in the announcement. “But more to the point is that after four years and four iterations of the proposed regulations, we feel the council member’s lack of support is a disservice to the people and businesses of the District by advocating yet another delay in the management of public space as it is impacted by the District’s street vending industry,” she wrote.

“These regulations are by no means the best that they can be, but they do give mobile vendors a tremendous amount of leeway to operate while accommodating most needs of the greater community in which they exist,” Hollinger added in her statement. “We trust that the rest of the council sees these regulations as the best current hope to bring some semblance of balance to street-side business operations in the District.”

The D.C. Council has until June 22 to vote on the vending regulations. But should council members pass emergency legislation to amend the rules, it’s not clear yet whether their newfound authority would apply to the regulations now under consideration, said John R. Hoellen, the District’s deputy general counsel. What’s more, the emergency legislation would have to be approved by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who would have 10 business days to make a decision. That could leave precious few days for council members to rework the regulations before their deadline, even if they can.

Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for Gray, said the mayor still believes in the vending regulations despite a recent public hearing in which Orange and other members of his committee said they could not support the rules as written.

“We believe the regulations are a good balance between all the interested parties and that they are proper for managing public space,” Ribeiro said.

Ribeiro wasn’t sure whether the mayor’s office would simply resubmit the regulations for a second consideration, should the council reject them. The mayor would need to review the final council vote and other factors before making such a decision, Ribeiro said.

If the mayor resubmits the regulations as is, Orange says he hopes the D.C. Council will have the authority to amend them, which could be a mixed blessing to all parties involved in this ongoing battle for the streets of Washington.

“Once you get the full council involved, you never know where it’s going to go,” Orange said.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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