Housing Complex

Business Associations Pushing to Get Food Trucks Taxed, Capped–And Soon

(Darrow Montgomery)

Prince of Petworth checked in with Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who says that she's considering emergency legislation to slap a moratorium on the number of food trucks on D.C. streets, and tax those that remain. Indeed, D.C. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Janene Jackson confirms that she's teamed up with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and the Apartment and Office Building Association to ask for the cap, as well as a 10 percent sales tax, since proposed regulations that would govern food trucks are unsatisfactory.

"It's not that we don't want mobile food vendors," Jackson said. "We're in a deficit, and if bricks and mortars have to pay up, then we all have to pay up."

My colleague Alan Suderman is also hearing that the issue could come up as soon as tomorrow's Council legislative meeting, where members will be voting on a plan to close the budget shortfall.

For all the background you need, check out our dearly departed Tim Carman's cover story from a few months back.

UPDATE, 4:30 p.m. - Bowser says that the issue won't come up tomorrow, and clarifies that she strongly opposes a moratorium on the number of food trucks (I initially misread PoP's post).

UPDATE, 5:18 p.m. - Asher Huey, an online organizer helping food truck vendors in their regulatory campaign, says that Bowser's office hasn't yet received the Chief Financial Officer's scoring for a proposed tax increase, which means it can't be included in the gap closing plan. Also, incoming Council Chairman Kwame Brown sat down with several food truck owners and said that while he opposes a moratorium and would not support a tax in the budget legislation, he would like to see a sales tax bill next year that could be debated and implemented fairly.

But AOBA's Shaun Pharr is more optimistic about the sales tax's short-term prospects. "In light of the city’s current financial distress, it will come as no surprise if the sales tax aspect comes up in budget deliberations between now and the end of the current Council Period," he e-mails. Pharr praises rules recently passed in San Francisco that both make it easier for vendors to get permits and allow brick-and-mortar businesses a forum to voice their concerns before permits are granted. And some restaurants, he says, are even interested in starting up mobile branches themselves. "However," he writes, "...while mobile vending is desirable, it is both illogical and inequitable to let it proliferate in an almost entirely unregulated, Wild West fashion."

  • Skipper

    I'm confused by Jackson's logic.

    If "it's not that [the DC Chamber of Commerce] don't want mobile food vendors", then why are they pushing for a moratorium on any more mobile food vendors?

    And does it not seem odd that the DC Chamber of Commerce is basically looking to put these small businesses out of business?

  • Skipper

    And Bowser is quoted by PoP as saying she DOES NOT support a moratorium.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    skipper: bowser is quoted "on" PoP, by dan silverman. the blog and the person are not one in the same.

  • Skipper

    Just because the moratorium isn't up this week, there's nothing stopping the same interest groups from bringing it back for the Council's last meeting on December 21.

  • Rick Mangus

    Well we now know who has the most powerful lobby in this town!

  • Sally

    Of course Pharr likes San Fran's rules - it essentially gives businesses veto power to not allow any vendors or food trucks nearby.

  • Brian

    I feel like SOMETHING should be said here, but I don't even know where to begin....This is so typical DC, the District votes on legislation, rewrites it 50 times, have the whole process drag on so long that only the opposition with deep pockets and deep affiliation in special interest only makes out for the best. Meanwhile, the little guy gets looked over. Jackson's "We're in a deficit, and if bricks and mortars have to pay up, then we all have to pay up". Really...REALLY!!!, this is how DC is going to bring us out of financial hard times by taxing small businesses unequally and not encouraging economic growth. Over regulations, stiff tax hikes, caps on the number of business...all this goes against the core of what made this country the great place it is today. The comments that Spokeswomen Jackson have firmly stood by reflect bigger problems with no clear District solutions in sight.

  • Tiana

    The reason we have food trucks in the first place is because of the existing incentive-driven regulatory structure. If you read the September 24th article, food trucks have been a way for talented chefs, who do not have the start-up capital to invest in a brick and mortar store, to start up their own business. Food trucks have enabled chefs to test out recipes and build capital and name recognition to open brick and mortar stores themselves (see District Taco http://foodtruckfiesta.com/district-taco-store-opens-today/). Making it harder for start-up food trucks to enter the business will discourage competition, innovation and new business. DC needs to recognize that competition is what is beginning to make our city a well-respected culinary destination. We are no longer the steak and potatoes city we used to be. We are competing with New York City for celebrity chef presence. Regulation needs to keep pace with the city's innovation.

  • Brian

    Tiana -
    Okay, so I came off a little too bang the war drums in my post.....Yes, regulation needs to happen, such as what was voted on this past year. My main point was that these are small businesses of a unique nature and need to be treated as such, these ARE the gems that are on the cuff of counter culture in the foodie world. I just don't want to see them go away or all become Clyde's Mobile Food Solutions or Citronelle's Van of Overpriced Food, etc. and that is what looks to be happening with the special interest associations that are involved, the various reports of food truck harassment, possible capping the number of trucks, and a 10% potential tax hike form the preexisting flat tax. In this instance a flat tax benefits all parties involved, food trucks do not have a solid, stable premise....thus it is harder to drive up repeat business (even with the use of twitter), additionally people will spend less at food trucks than their brick and mortar cousins and ultimately make it harder for food trucks to be successful. Evolution in economies happens for a reason, and if this is where the market is going who is the government to step in and dictate otherwise just because it is responding to a few prominent restaurants in the area.

  • RGFleet

    This is the thing folks,

    The law governing Food trucks was written decades ago, in another economic reality that frankly, didn;t make sense then either. The law needs to be rewritten to ATLEAST require food trucks to pay the requisite 10% sales tax on all their sales, just as any other food business does. Vendors like the lobster truck paying a flat fee of $1,500 a year to the city when the regular sales tax off their sales would instead return ~$40,000 a year to the city coffers is plainly ludicrous. It hurts both the residents of the District and business alike.

    I would settle for that, but closely behind I would prefer the trucks also pay a BID tax. Since they move aroudn the city day after day perhaps they pay into a general BID fund that is then divided equally among the city BID's. Having the food truck come into the neighborhood and create tons of trash that the local BID then spends thousands a year cleaning up is pretty ridiculous.

    And no, I don't own a bar or restaurant. I just think the deck is obviously stacked against the brick and mortars that we ALL have an interest in seeing survive.

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  • Jeff

    Quite clearly its unfair to the bricks and mortar people that the vendors don't pay taxes now. I go to the Apple store, to name but one example, and they can ring me up on the floor, pay with my plastic and zap my receipt to my email via easy hand-held device. So, there is no longer any technological reason why all vendors cannot now do the same. Sure I'd love to pay no taxes too, lol....but those days are over and DC like any other jurisdiction needs the money these days. But don't do it in the budget in the middle of the night, more like freestanding legislation that can have a hearing, etc. That would be more open and transparent.

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