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What a Headache: Proposed Food Trucks Laws Are Going Back to the Drawing Board

Photo: My House/Facebook

Just when things were looking up for New Orleans Food Trucks, opponents of Stacy Head's proposed new laws have stuck a nail in their proverbial tires. Yesterday, the council held a public hearing about the proposed new laws? which includes allowing trucks in more parts of the CBD? and as the Nola Defender reports "discussion ranged from permit availability, sanitation concerns, proximity to restaurant storefronts, and impacts food trucks have on the neighborhoods they are serving," ie. GPS tracking systems, poop, and crime. Stacy Head says she will now revise her proposal to " accommodate the loudest voices" of opposition, according to the Gambit. And the Times-Pic says it's unlikely the council will vote on the proposals in the next month, further stalling momentum for a change to the current, archaic laws from 1956.

So who is the loudest voice of opposition? Alex Woodward of The Gambit reports that:

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.

The arguments did seem to turn the talk from the controversial proposal of trucks in the CBD, which resulted in restaurant owners signing a petition a couple weeks ago for to keep trucks out? to primarily health issues... Here are arguments from both sides.

Paul Rotner, President of the New Orleans chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association on the need for consistent regulations: LRA members "do not oppose food trucks conceptually," reports the Times-Pic, just that they believe trucks have unfair advantages because they pay far less in property taxes and don't face the same strict sanitation standards (rats the size of beer cans?) and inspections as restaurants. "These regulations should be consistent." Rotner suggests GPS be installed in trucks, so the HDD can track and inspect them regularly.

Andrew Legrand on current regulations: "Food trucks are safe." According to state law, "mobile food vendors have to follow the same exact regulations as restaurants do. There's no difference." Legrand argues that trucks must be equipped with hot running water, triple sinks, and refrigeration, according to the Gambit. "Why is this a problem now? Is there a single case of food poisoning from a food truck?" As far as DHH inspections go, Legrand reminds everyone that trucks rely on Twitter, Facebook and website updates with schedules. "It's not hard to find us," he says. "We want to be found. It's in our best interest."[Gambit]

City health commissioner Karen DeSalvo on Louisiana health codes: She "fears the entrepreneurial aspect of trucks and a changing legislation outpaces health code updates," even though J.T. Lane, asst. secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals wrote to coucil saying their 'office will continue to inspect all food establishments and enforce the state's sanitary code, regardless of business model.' DeSalvo says 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." [Gambit]

Stacy Head calls DeSalvo's 'review' a red herring: "Mr. Lane is looking at all ... food service providers and restaurants. 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?"

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson: "No one is objecting to food trucks."

Stacy Head: "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."

Brain hurting? Now on to the CBD issue...

Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell: Says trucks are most badly needed in food deserts New Orleans East and the the 9th Ward... They should not be allowed to operate near established restaurants. "I'm all for food trucks, but I don't want them to be in competition with people who struggled for years."

Stacy Head: "Competition is at the heart of American values."

Alex del Castillo of Taceaux Loceaux via Facebook: "Protection of legacy business is not the role of law or government. Our current situation is akin to if desktop and notebook makers asked the government to restrict tablet and smartphones because they threaten their market share. Consumers are entitled to choice."

Tamara Muro of Velvet Espresso and Velvet Central: "We should be proud we have wonderful restaurants and food trucks in this city. 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."

Stacy Head's next revamp will likely include the following changes:
· Head's original proposal raises the annual license fee for food trucks to $600, nearly double the current figure. Revision will up initial fee to $805 and annual renewals $755.
· Original proposal reduces off-limits zone around a bricks-and-mortar restaurant from 600 feet to 50 feet. Revision will increase the distance to about 75 or 100 feet, though according to Times-Pic, Head indicated that she believes "that such limits are unconstitutional" as in other states.
· Head will keep the Uptown boundary as Howard Avenue, and amend the ordinance to prohibit trucks in most of Warehouse District and CBD "to accommodate the loudest voices," according to Gambit.

Further Reading: The Gambit, Times-Pic, Nola Defender

· All Food Truck Coverage [-ENOLA-]