On Monday, an Arlington County judge dismissed a criminal loitering charge against Anna Goree, co-owner of the Seoul Food D.C. truck, who faced fines and prison time for violating the jurisdiction's street vending law. General District Judge Thomas J. Kelley threw out the complaint at the request of prosecutors, who determined the ordinance is too vague to enforce.
Which could be good news for all food trucks in Arlington, not just Goree's.
"This ordinance is difficult to enforce," said Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos. "We will wait until the county clarifies the ordinance to enforce it."
Goree had been issued several citations last year for breaking an ordinance that requires street vendors to move every 60 minutes, even if they're parked at a meter that extends beyond an hour, said her attorney, Noah Sullivan, an associate with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. She had paid fines on at least two occasions but decided to fight her December citation, which she received for not parking far enough away from her previous spot.
It was a risky gambit. Because Arlington County considers the parking offense a Class 1 misdemeanor -- on par with drunk driving and assaults -- Goree could have been fined up to $2,500 and faced 12 months in jail, though Sullivan said such penalties are usually reserved for repeat offenders.
The problem with the law, according to both the Commonwealth's Attorney and Goree, is that it doesn't specify how far a truck must move after the hour is up. The Seoul Food D.C. owners, for instance, had been given three different directives on how far their truck must move from its previous spot to comply with the law.
"That’s the sort of thing that can’t stand," said Sullivan, whose firm was contacted by the libertarian Institute for Justice to take on the case pro-bono. "That’s not the way that a criminal ordinance can be enforced."
Members of the recently renamed Food Truck Association of Metropolitan
Washington said they are still working with the Arlington County Board and Arlington Economic Development to revise the 60-minute law. The county has already shown itself open to change with food trucks. In 2008, the board revised the law to allow mobile vendors to park for an hour at one spot; previously, they had to leave after a mere five minutes.
"There is a general recognition that the current rules need to change.” said Che Ruddell-Tabisola, political director for the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington.
Cara O'Donnell, spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development, said her office is working on a new food truck plan for the county that will address the issue, and it should be ready by the spring.
"We are working on a long-term strategy that will better accommodate all of our business and customers," O'Donnell said. "We know the time restrictions are a challenge."
In the meantime, the Commonwealth's Attorney said it is unlikely she will bring cases against food truck vendors charged with violating the 60-minute rule until the ordinance becomes more specific.
"That's not a good use of resources," Stamos said.
The Seoul Food D.C. owners elected not to speak with the media about the judge's decision, but they issued this statement through Sullivan:
"We are so humbled by many of our supporters. . . first and foremost our loyal customers. They are the ones who keep all off our businesses strong. They even made it possible for us to open our own brick and mortar restaurant this spring. We are looking forward to working with Arlington County in the future. We are lucky to live in such a thriving and diverse area. Now we can concentrate on what really matters: bringing great food to our fans."