Last month, a group of Chicago aldermen introduced an ordinance touted to make it easier for food trucks to do business in the Windy City. With the seal of approval from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the measure appears to be headed toward passage.
But even as the ordinance's proponents argue that the measure will eliminate burdensome restrictions and bring "common-sense changes" to the city's food truck industry, many of the city's food truck operators say the proposal could actually ruin their businesses.
So, which is it? We asked Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st Ward), one of the ordinance's co-sponsors, and Amy Le, co-owner of the popular DucknRoll truck, to discuss the matter. Weigh in on the debate below and let us know whether either side in this ongoing issue changes your mind.
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The last meeting of the City Council was a good one; we decriminalized/reclassified marijuana possession, my Live-Work Ordinance was finally passed (after an unnecessary and worthless three month delay) and the Mayor, with seven Aldermen (including me) introduced a Food Truck Ordinance, which will legitimize and regulate a burgeoning business industry.
The council has been going back and forth on this issue since before I was in office. I've sat in too many meetings to mention, where the same thing is discussed for what seems like eternity. What we introduced last Wednesday, while not perfectly satisfactory to some food truck operators (as I'm sure you can see from my fellow debater), is a workable compromise.
Currently we have 127 licensed food trucks in our city. New York and L.A. have thousands. We can't wait to make changes any longer: our current requirements, developed in the early 1990s, are antiquated and unsuitable for today's food truck industry.
This new food truck ordinance has a significant number of reforms, which can seem complex (this is Chicago, what do you expect?) and even overly-burdensome, but were established to ensure public safety, dispel the competitive concerns of established businesses and help the food truck industry grow.
Food truck operators will now be able to prepare food-to-order on board the vehicle. Taken literally the current weird requirements prevent them from even adding ketchup to their food. This new ordinance will establish food truck stands across the city, where trucks can park for free for up to two hours at a time. This should cause consistent turnover, which is fair to the operators and provides variety for customers. It will also allow trucks to sell in highly congested neighborhoods, where parking is close to impossible (I'm talking about you, Lincoln Park).
Under these new regulations food trucks will be able to operate 24/7; currently they can't operate between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. The existing restriction that they operate 200 feet. away from an existing restaurant will remain, but will not apply between midnight and 5 a.m.
The other major part of the ordinance is that each truck must install and use a GPS device. This will let the city know where they are (Big Brother is watching), but, much more interestingly it will let developers use the data to build cool apps that let consumers access the location of their desired truck at any time.
The ordinance was referred to the License and Consumer Protection Committee, where I'm sure there will be more discussion and possibly alterations. It's likely that this ordinance will be voted on (and passed) by the full Council at our next meeting on July 25.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed food truck ordinance will allow food truck owners and operators to offer a wider variety of food by allowing us to prep and cook onboard, while also extending sales to 24 hours. However, the ordinance retains existing rules and introduces new restrictions. The increased fines and penalties, banning trucks within 200 feet of a restaurant, and the new requirement of GPS tracking devices make it impossible for us to thrive in a competitive market place. So while we are being offered some new benefits -- what's the cost?
We are not looking for zero regulations. When it comes to protecting the health and safety of our patrons, we are 100 percent on board; but using government power to protect the interests of one business over another is a different matter.
Fines aren't fine
A food truck caught "dealing" cupcakes 199 feet from a restaurant would be subject to a $1,000-$2,000 fine. Yet someone caught with less than half an ounce of marijuana only faces a fine of $250 to $500. Furthermore, under the Mayor's proposed ordinance, it's far less expensive to have a health code citation -- $250 to $500 -- than it is to park next to a restaurant. The fine structures illustrate that protecting the interests of a restaurant is more valuable to the city than the public's health and safety.
The 200 foot buffer zone that food trucks must observe around restaurants also includes coffee shops and convenience stores. By this standard, legal parking spots in the city's coveted downtown Loop area are nearly nonexistent.
The city has proposed food truck "stands" -- designated parking spots -- to help alleviate the burdens of the 200 foot rule. The ordinance would require a minimum of five truck stands in six community areas. In total there would be 60 spots throughout the city, and the 10 spots designated in the Loop would not be sufficient for the existing 55+ trucks and the up to 200 soon to enter the market, which will be clamoring for those coveted spots during the downtown lunch rush.
What GPS devices can't do
For the purpose of enforcing the 200 foot rule, the government-required GPS would allow the city to monitor and track our business. Imagine if you were told you had to wear an ankle bracelet at work to make sure you weren't doing anything other than working. The GPS device comes at our expense and at the expense of tax payers. The city will need to assign personnel to monitor and review the data being collected. Is this the best way to allocate city resources? We already use GPS-related devices and tools (e.g., Twitter) to alert customers of our location. We aren't hiding.
Customers are not the property of any one business; they cannot be stolen -- but they can be won. It is the responsibility of all business owners to win the loyalty and patronage of their customers. It is the responsibility of our government to enact rules and regulations that protect the health and safety of those patrons and encourage the growth of its business community -- both small and large.
Thirty-four years ago, my mother, pregnant with me and caring for my two-year-old brother, hid in the tiny belly of a fishing boat to flee a war-torn country. With 10 dollars in her pocket, she wanted a better life for herself and her family. She wanted the opportunity and freedom to choose who she would become. She worked three jobs to save enough money to open her own line of restaurants. It was in those restaurants that I learned the commitment, the sacrifice and the hard work it would take to become an entrepreneur. All that I ask from Mayor Emanuel and the city council, is to give my fellow food truck owners and me the same opportunity to grow our businesses and contribute to the amazing culinary community that already thrives in Chicago.
John Keebler, founding member of the Illinois Food Truck Association, and Tiffany Kurtz, co-owner of Flirty Cupcakes, contributed to this piece.
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