Opinion

Op-Ed: Don't kill D.C.'s vibrant food trucks

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Opinion,Op-Eds

Today, the District of Columbia Council's Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs Committee will hear testimony on proposed regulations that could spell doom for the District's popular food trucks.

In my testimony before the committee this morning, I will urge council members to reject this latest set of proposed rules because the regulations would harm District residents and food trucks alike by legislating an unfair and illegal competitive advantage for brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Today's hearing is the latest twist in an ongoing regulatory saga that's posed a continued existential threat to the District's food trucks for the past few years.

During that period, two District agencies have proposed a host of varying regulations. Some of these rules would have been a real step forward. Unfortunately, they were never put to a vote before the D.C. Council. The regulations the council will consider today, on the other hand, would be a giant step backwards.

These proposed regulations would impose severe restrictions on where food trucks could park and sell food. The rules would assign some parking spots by random lottery, establish 500-foot exclusion zones around these lottery-designated spaces in which no other food truck could vend, and bar trucks from vending on any street with a sidewalk that is not at least 10-feet wide.

These arbitrary and punitive rules could kill off the District's vibrant food truck scene.

District food trucks are drawing widespread support from D.C. residents, food truck owners around the country, and some brick-and-mortar restaurateurs in the District who are appalled by the brutality of the proposed rules.

Comments submitted to regulatory agencies in the District on various proposed regulations have demonstrated overwhelming support for food trucks. In one instance, for example, public comments ran 98% in favor of food trucks.

This week, more than 30 brick-and-mortar restaurants in the District, including Hank's Oyster Bar, pledged their continued support for D.C. food trucks and their opposition to the proposed regulations.

The support of Hank's, a Restaurant Association of Metro Washington member, is significant. The restaurant association, the group pushing the proposed regulations the D.C. Council will consider today, has nominated Hank's for an award as the "Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene of the Year."

Late last month, eight of the largest food truck membership associations from around the United States sent a strongly worded joint letter to the D.C. Council urging council members to reject the proposed rules.

"These regulations represent some of the worst food truck laws in the county and, if passed, would transform the District overnight from a leader in mobile vending to one of the worst food-truck cities in the nation," the associations write.

They're right.

Earlier this week, many District food trucks parked around Farragut Square, a popular vending place for the trucks and their customers. Instead of setting up for business on the square that day, though, the trucks staged a "Day Without a Food Truck" to protest against the proposed regulations. Rather than serving food, truck owners and employees spoke with the public to educate them about the terrible threat posed by these proposed regulations.

The vending zones, exclusion zones, and monthly lottery that make up the proposed regulations can serve no other purpose than to limit consumer access to food trucks for the express purpose of protecting--in an illegal and unconstitutional manner--the economic interests of some brick-and-mortar restaurants in the District. The D.C. Council can do better for the District and its residents and should reject the proposed rules outright.

Baylen J. Linnekin is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, DC nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom--an individual's right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of his or her own choosing.

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