The saga that has lasted for over a year continues to get worse and the City of Raleigh seems completely set on doing everything it can to make sure that food trucks operate nowhere near where civilization gathers on a regular basis.
The latest drama comes as the Food Trucks agenda went to the Law and Safety Committee on Tuesday, August 30th. The meeting was a heated debate between Council Members Mary Ann Baldwin, who tried to find a few compromises in the new guidelines, and John Odom and Eugene Weeks, who both fiercely opposed any form of compromise on the issue. Before the meeting, the new agenda was released (see it here - automatic download of PDF) with new regulations on food trucks, many of which added more limitations to the previous rules set forth in the earlier City Council meetings.
The Raleigh City Council has convened many times over the past year and a half hearing the thoughts of “concerned citizens”, business owners in downtown and the food truck operators themselves. Over this time frame, the restrictions in the regulations have far outweighed the compromises. As it currently sits, food trucks would not be able to operate on the streets of downtown without the cooperation of a business to lend them a parking space (more on that in a bit).
One of the new (and largest) regulations, comes in the form of what time food trucks would be able to operate in Raleigh. The new law states that food trucks would only be able to serve food until 1am, rather than the 3am time that is currently set for hot dog carts. As many night-owls (which downtown and Glenwood South are full of) know, this is the prime time for a late night snack and spells dollar signs for street vendors. Go to any metropolis in our country and you’ll see small food shops and street vendors with lines down the block after 1am. Note: restaurants are allowed to open all night long if they want. This issue was heavily debated at Tuesday’s meeting and ended with, like the entire agenda, without resolution. Council Member Weeks opposed this regulation and gave no reason or justification as to why food trucks should close at 1am, rather than the original 3am time frame. The only reason listed in the agenda is to deter gathering crowds near residential buildings. Go outside at 2am on a weekend. Drunk crowds gather without food trucks and are loud, regardless.
The second big issue that has popped up recently is the assignment of parking spaces for food trucks in Raleigh. For a food truck to serve food on private property, the business must apply for a zoning permit for the truck to be on their property. This permit takes about ten days, which to some of the council members wasn't enough time as well. Within the permit process, this private company must show that they have a specific parking space in mind for the food truck. This parking space MUST be paved and not dirt, gravel or grass (although gravel is a possibility in the future). After the permit is acquired, the company must then paint the space and designate it for the food truck.
There’s more. This parking space must be in a secondary parking space and not a primary one for the business. Some business, such as Ornamentea (which was brought up in the meeting) has only primary parking spaces, so it’s possible that this small business couldn’t get the permit because they didn’t have enough parking spaces in their TINY parking lot.
The trucks can only operate in these private lots during the hours of the business with the permit. Also, the owner of the building is the one that must apply for the permit. That means, someone leasing the building cannot apply for the permit and the owner must be present and have his/her name on the permit. Then, if the permit is secured and a restaurant pops up within 100 feet of the business at any time afterwards, they go back to square one and the food truck can no longer operate in that location. There’s no grandfather clause. The food trucks will always be on edge as to whether this one location they did secure will be there permanently.
We'll continue with the regulations. Food trucks cannot put folding sign boards on the street to advertise their business. Yep, that simple sign board you see up on the photo of Klausie's truck above is restricted. They cannot have any outdoor seating for customers. They cannot have any amplification of any kind. There can be no more than 3 food trucks period on a lot (despite the size of the lot), unless there’s a temporary planning permit. But, this temporary planning permit only allows for four weekends per year for the food trucks to operate. And then, from what we can find out, these weekends must be consecutive rather than spread out through the year. You see, Raleigh is doing their best to literally run these small Raleigh-based businesses out of Raleigh.
I talked with Mike Stenke of Klausie’s Pizza and Lucas Kinnan of Localmotive, both Raleigh based food trucks, who have decided to take their business to Durham. It’s a shame that there are progressive, small ventures such as these that have to pack up, drive twenty miles west, use gas, sit in traffic and occasionally break down just to serve hungry people a slice of pizza or hamburger from a health-inspected truck with a proper permit.
Special events get around all of this, but as Stenke mentioned to me earlier this week “working only special events, doesn’t pay the bills.” He’s right. These food trucks can’t rely on one-off events to gather enough people for them to make their money. And, of course, regulations are needed and laws need to be in place, but the City of Raleigh has gone so far in the past year that even if the law passes at next week’s meeting (or whatever meeting it gets pushed to next), we won’t see any trucks willing to try and check off everything to make their businesses work.
Somehow, the “progressive city” that we live in, doesn’t see the fact that these small businesses will only help bring more people to the streets of Raleigh spending money in multiple places. If the trucks were in downtown, I can promise you that 75% of the people purchasing food from them also spent money at a nearby bar or business. Push them out into the suburbs into a random parking lot and you won’t get them spending money anywhere else nearby, except maybe at Big Lots.
On the business front. It seems as though there are some corporate interests intertwined with the council members’ votes. McDonald’s came up a few times during the meeting and Odom stated that he had a relationship and must protect certain business in his district. For the record, Klausie’s Pizza is based out of Odom's district. Touché. Thomas Crowder, a mostly progressive council member has stated some things about wallets getting stolen at food truck rodeos and that our kids would be woke up by the sound of a generator outside of a house. In that case, let’s get motorcycles, buses and other macho-mobiles off of the road past 10pm. City council can do that, right? There have been other allegations about money being involved within this story and campaigns but we won’t dig into any of that just yet.
As previously mentioned, Mary Ann Baldwin asked for multiple compromises on these issues, including a six month trial process, which was quickly shot down. The sad part of this is that the Law & Public Safety Committee was supposed to make suggestions for the council’s next meeting, hopefully coming to a compromise about what we should do about the issue. Unfortunately, for reasons that seem to be quite abstract, two members of this committee have decided to stall the process once again. We know that there are a few council members that should be (based on their record) voting yes for food trucks, including mayoral candidate Nancy McFarlane, Bonner Gaylord, possibly Russ Stephenson and hopefully some others. Here is also a list of local restaurants who have publicly come out against the food trucks.
Lucas Kinnan has lived in Raleigh all of his life. He has spent the last year preparing his truck, Localmotive, for the streets of Raleigh. Kinnan and Stenke both represent small businesses, with families to feed, money to make and ideas they thought would make that happen. Kinnan thought that his truck, along with the many others that had starting popping up in the past year, would “provide so much life, energy and great, affordable food choices for the people that call Raleigh home.” There have been hundreds of emails to city council members but somehow these have been ignored and the ears of the politicians have been peaked by McDonald’s and a few other loud restaurant owners in the area. Kinnan commends Baldwin on her “logic and reason throughout this heated debate.” We need more of that in this debate. Logic and reason would have got us so much further than signboards, grass lots and a 1am curfew time over the past year.
Stenke already drives to Durham on a daily basis and has broke down several times over the past few months, trying to hussle back and forth from Durham to the special events (the only way he can work his hometown) here in Raleigh. With these new regulations, he sees himself out of a job in the Raleigh area and plans on concentrating mostly in the Durham area where the food truck scene is thriving. Think about Only Burger and how that truck has done well enough to set up a retail spot in Durham. The same could happen to any of these trucks if they were given a chance to succeed in their truck first.
What about Lucas Kinnan and his truck that was beautifully painted by Raleigh artist Adam Peele? “Hopefully, Raleigh will see the light sooner than later but for now, we’re taking our talents to the Bull City” Kinnan said. Raleigh, a city that has been known in the past few years of recruiting and gaining talents, is starting to lose some of these talents on an issue that would give Downtown Raleigh that extra edge to keep it ahead of the curve.
The City Council meets next Tuesday to talk more about this issue. Even if the majority of the council members vote yes, the amount of regulations on this bill has already scared away enough local trucks that it's not likely to make a difference. We at New Raleigh have been huge supporters of food trucks over this past year and while we will still give our business to every truck possible and have them at our "special events", we see this as the end of a long road that we had hoped would end much better.
Email the City Council Members and let them know how you feel about the food truck issue before Tuesday's meeting.
Mayor: Charles Meeker | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
District A: Nancy McFarlane (Mayor Pro Tempore)| email: email@example.com
District B: John Odom | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
District C: Eugene Weeks | email: email@example.com
District D: Thomas Crowder | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
District E: Bonner Gaylord | email: email@example.com
At-Large: Mary-Ann Baldwin | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
At-Large: Russ Stephenson | email: email@example.com
Email the entire City Council, including the mayor, at firstname.lastname@example.org