D.C. hearing on food-truck rules brings sharp questions


Katherine Ip, in red, and Calvin Lu wait outside a food truck parked at Farragut Square on Thursday in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
May 10, 2013

Despite their efforts to appease the city’s many fans of food trucks, the directors of two District agencies faced pointed questions at a public hearing Friday on proposed regulations that would determine the future of street vending in Washington.

Testifying before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the agency heads said their departments evaluated downtown streets and singled out 180 parking spaces in “mobile roadway vending zones,” which are the District’s solution to the public-safety problems at the most popular food-truck sites. The specially permitted spaces, selected monthly through a lottery, would allow food trucks to be open for four continuous hours without running afoul of parking laws.

What’s more, those spaces would accommodate virtually all 200 food trucks licensed in the District, because only about 100 to 120 of them vend daily on the streets, said Vincent Parker, vending and special-events coordinator at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Nonetheless, DCRA Director Nicholas Majett and Terry Bellamy, director of the District Department of Transportation, faced serious questioning from Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), the committee’s chairman. Orange and others on the committee pressed the directors on a number of proposed regulations that would apparently restrict food trucks from vending and roaming in the Central Business District, the broad stretch of downtown where mobile vendors conduct most of their business.

But the committee saved its toughest questioning to try to parse a comment Majett made during his testimony. “Let me be very clear that if these proposed regulations are not approved and the District government was to strictly enforce the current laws and requirements for food trucks,” he had said, “that would have a drastic and immediate impact on the District’s vibrant food-truck industry.”


Food-truck proposal

Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he didn’t appreciate the DCRA’s implied threat to enforce the “ice cream truck” rule, which governs all food trucks. That regulation, instituted before mobile vending turned gourmet, requires vendors to pull over only when people are waiting and to leave when their line of customers has disappeared.

“It’s not a threat,” Majett responded. The DCRA director said his agency regularly finds itself criticized — by restaurants, the public and the council itself — for not holding food trucks to the city’s laws.

Majett said the DCRA had been holding off on enforcing the laws during the now-four-year rulemaking process but that if proposed regulations fail again, the agency might feel more pressure to enforce the ice cream truck rules.

“This [rulemaking] time is not over,” Grosso said. “We’re still in deliberations here.”

Ultimately, Orange said he hoped all sides in the long-running process could reach a compromise in this latest round. Orange repeatedly cautioned some of the 60-plus speakers who jammed into the hearing room that no one would get everything he or she wants.

Orange emphasized the main legal hurdle that will make the D.C. Council’s task difficult: Unless it introduces emergency legislation, the council can only approve, reject or take no action on the regulations by the June 22 deadline.

Emergency action to amend the rules would require the approval of nine of the 13 council members, who will then have “their own ideas on the regs,” Orange said.

After Andrew Kline, the legislative consultant for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, argued for the committee to move the regulations forward to the D.C. Council for approval, Orange immediately signaled his panel’s position on the rules.

“We have to look at the reality,” Orange said. “If we had to vote today on the regs, the regs would not pass.”

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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