City may see more mobile food trucks

But don’t expect a slew of food trucks down in the bowl. There aren’t that many spots that the trucks could use.
By Pat Ratliff | Aug 09, 2012
Food trucks like this one may soon be seen more often in Edmonds, as the city council voted to allow them to operate in all but residentially zoned areas of the city.

If you enjoy buying your lunch from a food truck, there’s good news. Edmonds will allow “Motorized Food Vendors” to sell their wares in some areas of the city.

The Edmonds City Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow the food vendors, with a number of restrictions.

There is already a mobile food vendor operating in the city, but city staff found “confusing and conflicting language within the Edmonds City Code (ECC) and Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC) as to whether motorized mobile vendors are an allowed activity within Edmonds,” according to documents submitted in council packets by Kernen Lien, Associate Planner for the City of Edmonds.

ECC 4.12 allows licensing peddlers, solicitors, street vendors and even mobile vending units, but doesn’t include Motorized Food Vendors. Mobile vending units are described as “a cart, kiosk or other device capable of being pushed by one person, with at least two functional wheels and positive wheel-locking devices” in the code.

In Title 16 of the ECDC, many of the commercially zoned areas have operating restrictions that say, “All uses shall be carried on entirely within a completely enclosed building…”

“So while a motorized mobile vendor may be allowed to operate under a solicitor’s license, the areas they would most likely locate restrict uses to buildings, which would exclude motorized mobile vendors,” Lien said.

Council discussion centered mostly on a few key points. During earlier discussions, suggestions had been made to restrict the vendors to outside a one-mile radius around key events in Edmonds, such as the Arts Festival, Waterfront Festival and Taste of Edmonds, where food vendors apply and pay for the right to serve food.

After much debate, it was decided to prohibit mobile food vendors within a quarter-mile of the events, as a one-mile radius would effectively move them out of the bowl.

There were other questions about trash removal (Vendors are required to have a trash can and remove trash nightly.); bathrooms (Health regulations require a nearby business that will allow workers in the trucks the use of their restrooms.); locations (not on city streets, not in residential zones); number of vendors allowed (At 15 vendor trucks, the city will review how the plan is working and make changes if needed.); sales tax paid to city on sales (Yes).

And it may be awhile before that limit of 15 vendor trucks is reached. Lien said that since the one mobile food vendor (“Here and There”) has been selling food, there have only been “three or four requests for information,” and one of those was for a mobile boutique, not a food truck. Only mobile food vendors will be allowed in the city under the new ordinance.

Public comment from citizens on the issue was mixed.

Priya Sinha spoke about a question of trucks having an unfair advantage over businesses.

“Unfair advantage? We are a capitalistic society,” she said. “Unfair competition is an absurdity. It’s not going to affect it.”

Julie Malcolm, owner of the “Here and There” mobile food vendor truck, said she has parked at 4th and Dayton every Wednesday for 3 1/2 years.

“I do pay taxes like everyone else,” she said. “I also pay more than minimum wage to my employees.

“I’m totally self-contained, I have the restroom agreement for me and my employees that the health department requires, I’m approved in King and Snohomish Counties, and I have a commissary where I prepare my food every night, as required.”

Roger Hertrich saw a different problem with the food vendors.

“Trash or litter is a big problem,” he said. “I get trash from a deli close to me (which has window service.)  The restaurant nearby, there is not a trash problem with them. I don’t believe the vendors really belong in the bowl.”

Chanterelle Restaurant owners Randy and Brooke Baker, in an email to the city, said, “Each of us restaurateurs is faced with rising food costs, rising payrolls, and heavy competition for diners from all the options.

“Happy hours, early birds, coupons, Groupons, frequent dining clubs are all discounts to lure the cost-conscious, which is almost everyone these days.

“To add nomadic entrepreneurs who have no rents, or substantial staffs, or large utility bills, or commitments to this community as the rest of us do is simply unfair competition.”

They also asked the council to “Understand that there are many employees that are dependant on the survival of the local restaurants; it is already difficult enough to keep full-time employees.

“Food trucks will unquestionably have an impact on the survivability of our employees as well as our core business.

“We have a commitment to this city, we are here for the long haul. During difficult times we cannot simply drive away and relocate.

“Food trucks have no commitment, and are here to grab whatever they can for as long as it lasts and then they will disappear.”

The council also discussed limits around special events.

Motions for one-mile and half-mile limits were defeated, but a quarter mile limit was passed unanimously.

“Events have their own vendors in a restricted area,” council member Frank Yamamoto said. “People won’t leave an event to eat from an outside vendor.”

Council member Kristiana Johnson made a motion to not limit the vendor to food only, but that was defeated.

After a long night of discussion, the council unanimously passed the “housekeeping” changes needed to allow more mobile food vendors to operate in the city.

But don’t expect a slew of food trucks down in the bowl. There aren’t that many spots that the trucks could use.

The biggest change could come from the Hwy. 99 area, with many appropriate parking spots and plenty of traffic passing by.



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