D.C. Council panel rejects food-truck regulations

Matt McClain/The Washington Post - Katherine Ip, left center, is embraced by Calvin Lu as they wait outside a food truck parked at Farragut Square on Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

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A D.C. Council committee Friday rejected a set of proposed vending regulations that food-truck owners had argued would cripple their budding industry.

Four members of the council’s Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee voted against the rules, saying they did not do enough to protect food-truck operators.

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The industry, committee Chairman Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said, “has established itself as a fixture in the vending business scene,” and the regulations developed by a city agency threatened its viability.

The full council is expected to vote next week on emergency legislation introduced by Orange that would allow the council to amend the proposed rules. Currently, the council can only approve, reject or take no action on the regulations — the fourth set that the District has published since the city was tasked with creating street-vending rules in 2009.

Orange suggested that a few modifications could make the rules palatable. “We have a lot of momentum, and we want to keep the momentum moving forward,” he said. “We have to keep the dialogue going.”

One controversial provision concerns a food-truck-free buffer around the District’s proposed “mobile roadway vending” zones, where trucks would be allowed to sell meals for four continuous hours if they win a parking space in a monthly lottery.

Orange would like to reduce the buffer — proposed to be 500 feet — and allow trucks that don’t win a lottery spot to sell within 200 feet of the zones. He said he also would 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 downtown would be off-limits to mobile vendors who don’t secure lottery spots.

The committee’s vote 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 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.”

Kathy Hollinger, the restaurant association’s president, said in a statement that her group is “disappointed.”

“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,” she said.

There is uncertainty about how the process might unfold from here. The council has until June 22 to approve the vending regulations, though Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office could resubmit them.

It is also unclear whether Gray (D) will support allowing the council to modify the rules. Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said the administration supports the rules as written, calling them “a good balance between all the interested parties” and “proper for managing public space.”

In other business Friday, the committee approved a bill that would require the biggest names in retail to pay their workers a super-minimum hourly wage of $12.50. The full D.C. Council could vote on the matter as soon as next month.

Under the version of the Large Retailer Accountability Act passed by the committee, all retailers whose parent companies do at least $1 billion in sales would be subject to the new wage requirement. Orange said the legislation isn’t just about Wal-Mart — whose six planned D.C. stores would have been the most prominent businesses targeted under the original bill — but about “the Nikes, the Apples, the Gaps.” Those big companies, he said, do business in smaller
spaces but can still afford to pay their workers more.

The panel’s vote attracted a significant crowd of labor leaders and social-justice advocates, who have pushed lawmakers to require higher wages, particularly in light of Wal-Mart’s plans to enter the city. The Greater Washington Board of Trade, meanwhile, issued a strong statement Friday opposing the broadened bill, saying it “does nothing to attract businesses and does every­thing to repel them.”

 
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