New Orleans City Council president Stacy Head presented her proposed food truck legislation to the council's Economic Development Committee this afternoon, but she will revise the measures to "to accommodate the loudest voices" in opposition before a vote in the full council.
New Orleans Food Truck Coalition attorney Andrew Legrand, who presented alongside coalition president Rachel Billow of the food truck La Cocinita, said one of its main opponents is the Louisiana Restaurant Association, which Legrand said is running a "fear-based campaign" about health and safety while it's more afraid of possible competition from mobile vendors. "Food trucks are safe," Legrand said, adding that according to state law, "Mobile food vendors have to follow the same exact regulations as restaurants do. There's no difference."
City health commissioner Karen DeSalvo said she fears the entrepreneurial aspect of trucks and a changing legislation outpaces health code updates. Head echoed food truck supporters, saying those health concerns were a red herring to change the outdated legislation.
J.T. Lane, assistant secretary of the state Department of Heath and Hospitals, wrote councilmembers about the department's "future enhancements" to retail food regulation — including mobile vending. "Our office will continue to inspect all food establishments and enforce the state's sanitary code, regardless of business model," Lane wrote.
DeSalvo said DHH wants trucks to be "as safe for the public as possible," and she anticipates completing a review of the health updates within the next couple of weeks. "The state wants to make sure it's prepared and ready to enforce the public's health as opportunities change with access to food," she said.
"Mr. Lane is looking at all ... food service providers and restaurants," Head said. "It seems to me he's saying don't use their desire to do a better job for all food service providers as a subterfuge for slowing down or stopping regulatory changes made in the city of New Orleans. ... If we're intellectually consistent, should we not stop all new restaurants and expansions until (DHH updates are) done?"
Head then asked why DeSalvo would not allow more food trucks while DHH updated its regulations. DeSalvo clarified that was not her position. "No one is objecting to food trucks," added councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.
Head later said, "If we are going to stop the expansion of local food vendors because we're waiting for the state to do something and we don't know what that something is, then let's be consistent and stop all expansions of every restaurant."
Paul Rotner, president of the New Orleans chapter of the LRA, said the organization does not oppose food trucks "conceptually" but said health and safety regulations do not apply to food trucks as they do restaurants. Same goes for taxes. "These regulations should be consistent," he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Legrand noted that food truck operators do pay taxes, as well as property taxes via rent or mortgages to a mandatory commissary kitchen, where the trucks must prep their food. Legrand said trucks must be equipped with hot running water, triple sinks, and refrigeration. "Why is this a problem now?" he asked. "Is there a single case of food poisoning from a food truck?"
As far as DHH inspections go, Legrand added that trucks rely on Twitter, Facebook and website updates with schedules. "It's not hard to find us," he said. "We want to be found. It's in our best interest."
Head's current proposal would increase the mobile vendor permit cap from 100 to 200, and expand the allotted time a vendor can stay in one place from 45 minutes to four hours. It also would allow food trucks to operate 50 feet away from restaurants, though Head said she would consider expanding it to 75 or 100 feet. The proposal also would only slightly prohibit trucks in most of the Warehouse District, CBD and French Quarter — current law prohibits them from anywhere inside those boundaries, but Head proposed boundaries of between Canal and Poydras streets and Rampart Street and the Mississippi River. It would open parts of Treme, the "Biomedical District" and a chunk of the CBD.
Lafayette Square Association member Cassandra Sharpe spoke in opposition to the changes, fearing food trucks parking near residential property, which is actually prohibited in the proposed changes, which prohibits "vending in any residential district or in front of a purely residential structure" and schools.
Other proposals include trucks adopting a litter abatement program, and the city may increase mobile vending permit costs, from $305.25 to $805.25, and $250.25 annually after to $755.25 annually after.
Proposed amendment in ordinance would prohibit trucks in most of Warehouse District and CBD "to accommodate the loudest voices," Head said.
Velvet Espresso Bar owner Tamara Muro is opening a restaurant on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard "solely" because of the success of the food truck rallies there.
"We should be proud we have wonderful restaurants and food trucks in this city," she said. "These food trucks need to be accessible to everyone. ... We want to go to Company Burger for a hamburger, or we want to go to Dat Dog for a hot dog. And when we pass a taco truck, we're not going to stop for a taco when we want a hamburger."