Food trucks made a major advance toward becoming a government-sanctioned, street-legal fixture of the District’s culinary scene Tuesday, after the D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve regulations governing where and how they may operate in the city.
The council’s vote ratified rules concerning the most divisive issues involving food trucks, whose proliferation in recent years has delighted downtown lunchseekers but alienated some traditional restaurant owners. The sometimes-rancorous debate caused headaches for city officials, who found it hard to shoehorn the trucks into regulations written with hot dog carts and ice cream trucks in mind.
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.
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 member of his administration who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said that is unlikely.
A spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said the administration would review changes made to the bill Tuesday.
Che Ruddell-Tabisola, political director of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, said if Gray doesn’t veto the measure, 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.”
And 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.”