For Food Trucks, Any New Rules Are Good Rules
The D.C. government on Friday released its long-awaited new regulations to govern how food trucks operate in the District. (The Post has the full 67-page rulemaking here.) For operators of the popular roving nosh mobiles, the mere publication of new rules in this morning's D.C. Register represents something of a victory. "We are desperate for progress," says Kristi Whitfield, proprietor of Curbside Cupcakes and executive director of the D.C. Food Truck Association. "We know we're not going to get every single thing we want in these new regulations. And as a group, we're more interested in just moving forward to the next step. What we don't want to do is get trapped in some sort of process where we start again. I'm afraid that people are going to come out against regulations because they're not 100-percent perfect and then distract City Council into working on them some more instead of actually making some progress on this issue. It's time to do something. You know, we've spent two years trying to get improved vending regulations and anything short of passing new regulations, it's going to be a failure of the process."
One major development in Whitfield's view—elimination of the so-called "ice cream truck" rule, which requires the trucks to pull out of their current location if no one is waiting in line for food. "Getting rid of the ice cream truck rule is a critical step," Whitfield says. There's a catch, though: the new rules include different provisions for sweet and savory vendors. As the Post notes, the regs would allow savory trucks to park a bit longer in order to prep. Dessert sellers don't get the same consideration.
Maybe the most significant development in the new rules: the creation of "vending development zones," which the Post describes as the city's attempt to broker a compromise between the interests of food trucks and traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants. The concept allows business associations and community groups to work with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in establishing neighborhood-specific rules governing the number of vendors, the locations where trucks can park and the hours that trucks can operate within a given area. The proposed regs outline a multi-pronged regulatory process of applications and approvals in how those zones may be set up.
For Whitfield, the zone idea raises serious questions: for instance, could all of downtown become one big vending development zone with restrictions that provide less opportunities for the trucks than currently exist? That's her fear, anyway.
Asked who comes out on top in the proposed regulations—the trucks or traditional restaurants—Whitfield responds, "The city. That's the sarcastic, snarky answer, but it is true."
Photo by Darrow Montgomery