D.C. plans more than 150 central locations for food trucks


Tasha Hubbard, left, waits for her order from a food truck parked at Farragut Square on Thursday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
May 9, 2013

Hoping to fend off the argument that the District’s proposed street-vending regulations would squash the local food-truck scene, directors of two city agencies plan Friday to identify more than 150 prime locations for mobile vendors in the Central Business District.

At a public hearing at which dozens of speakers are expected to rant about the regulations that would govern street food and merchandising, the officials plan to unveil a map showing the exact number of vending locations for food trucks and other mobile merchandisers in the main commercial zone.

Terry Bellamy, director of the Department of Transportation, and Nicholas A. Majett, who heads the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, are expected to identify 19 parking spots around Farragut Square, 15 near Union Station and 13 around Franklin Square — to highlight just three of the most popular downtown vending locations — that would be open to vendors while satisfying the agencies’ rules for public safety and space management. Those figures compare favorably with the number of food trucks now operating in those areas.

“You won’t see fewer [locations] than this,” said a city official who requested anonymity because he was not permitted to speak about the city’s plan ahead of the public hearing before the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, chaired by Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large). “The map is basically what we believe is a pretty good baseline on where we’re going to be.”

The District’s number of vending locations is far greater than those estimated by the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington when it conducted a sidewalk survey in March and concluded that many trucks would be effectively locked out of downtown unless they were part of the city’s proposed “mobile roadway vending zones.” The association created its own map outlining the areas that would be off-limits under the new regulations.

The food truck association had been trying for months to learn the exact number of vehicles the city would allow in the zones, which the District has proposed as a way to relieve congested sidewalks, blocked Metro bus stops and a lack of public parking at the most popular vending sites downtown. But until the figures were provided Thursday afternoon to a reporter, the association had heard no concrete numbers other than what is printed in the regulations, which proposed at least three spaces for trucks at each mobile roadway vending zone.

The new numbers didn’t immediately calm the food truck association, which has been urging the D.C. Council to kill the regulations. The association has dubbed its grass-roots campaign “Save D.C. Food Trucks.”

“Our main concern is that they put [the numbers] on paper in the actual regulations,” said Doug Povich, chairman of the food truck association and co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound DC truck.

The problem with not having the numbers in the regulations, said Povich, is that there is turnover among agency directors and officials. The next leaders of the city transportation and consumer agencies may decide they no longer want 19 trucks at Farragut Square; they may decide they want only five, Povich said. There’s no language in the regulations now that would prevent the agencies from changing the number, he said.

What’s more, Povich said, the food truck association still has problems with other parts of the regulations, such as a proposed rule requiring 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk next to any parking space not part of a mobile roadway vending zone. This rule, in effect, turns mobile vendors into stationary ones in the Central Business District, Povich said.

Roaming to meet customer demand “is one of the unique things about the [food truck] industry,” said Che Ruddell-Tabisola, the food truck association’s political director. “There are very few other industries that hand off so much operational control to their customers, where they have this highly individual experience shaping their dining. It’s one of the things that makes us successful.”

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which launched its own e-mail campaign last week to promote passage of the vending regulations, had no immediate comment on the number of food trucks that the city plans for popular vending sites. In an interview last week, Andrew Kline, legislative consultant for the group, expressed concern that the city would allow more trucks in mobile roadway vending zones than the association would like.

Upon hearing the new figures, Kline said, “The pure numbers don’t mean a whole lot out of context of where the precise locations are.”

Leona Agouridis, executive director of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, said she thought the number of trucks planned for Farragut Square is virtually the same as the number currently operating there. Golden Triangle has expressed frustration for years about the congestion and trash produced by food trucks at Farragut Square.

Agouridis said she hopes that District officials have plans for how to manage the lines that form outside food trucks. She said she also hopes the proposed regulations pass the D.C. Council, since they include a plan to use vending-permit fees to pay for trash removal in places such as Farragut Square. “Right now,” she said, “we’re stepping in [and removing trash] without compensation.”

If District officials hoped their new numbers would halt the food truck association’s protests at Friday’s public hearing, they’ll likely be disappointed. The association apparently plans to follow through with its efforts to kill the proposed rules, but Povich said the city has no one to blame but itself for that situation.

District officials, he said, put the association in a difficult position when they decided to simultaneously release the regulations and send them before the D.C. Council. The council has until June 22 to either pass or reject the regulations or take no action; the legislative body cannot amend the rules to appease any public concern or comment.

“If they hadn’t dropped the regulations on the city council at the same time they came out with the rule-making, then we would be in the position of saying, ‘These proposed rules, we’re okay with 80 percent of them or whatever. We want to fix these’ ” other 20 percent, Povich said. “To be shut out of that process by this procedural tactic was extremely frustrating, and we were backed into a corner.”

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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