Food trucks push back on proposed regulations

Food truck owners and D.C. residents are fighting back against proposed regulations that could restrict the mobile eateries from parking near certain areas on the street.

The measures, proposed by the city administrator last month, would only allow food trucks to vend on sidewalks that span 10 feet of “unobstructed space,” according to a draft published by the city administrator Oct. 5.

It is backed by restaurant owners across the District who say their businesses have been harmed by the city’s food truck boom in the past several years. If finalized, the proposal would have to go before the D.C. Council for approval and implementation.

A Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs public comment period on the proposed guidelines ended Tuesday. Forty-two responses were published online – three-quarters of which opposed the restrictions.

Saad Jallad, owner of Crepeaway at L and 20th streets, said his sales decreased by 70 percent during the weekday lunch hour. He blamed the food trucks parked outside his restaurant and called for increased restrictions on food truck businesses.

“All the restaurants in this area have had sales that have been depleted since food trucks came into existence,” Jallad said. “We have to share the same amount of customers with three more restaurants, because that’s what food trucks are. They’re restaurants – they’re just on wheels.”

He worried that the regulations would not be enforced if they did pass, and trucks would still be allowed to park anywhere for as long as they want.

But food trucks say their businesses would be on the verge of collapse if the regulations pass.

“If they enforce the 10-foot sidewalk rule, it’s going to eliminate a lot of the major Metro stops that people operate on,” said Daniel Diaz, a vendor for the Rito Loco food truck. “It’s either going to be a lot of construction to make more 10-foot sidewalks in D.C. or, I don’t know, a lot of people might go out of business.”

Comments on the regulations also included a 37-signature petition from the D.C. Food Truck Association, a group that operates as a union of more than 50 trucks around the city, asking Mayor Vincent Gray to put forward regulations that “make common sense.”

The petition aruged that the proposed rules do not clarify what counts as an “obstruction” and that the rules threaten small businesses.

Helder Gil, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said Tuesday that the office “will review all the submitted comments and determine whether to make changes to the proposed regulations.”

Last month, the association measured the sidewalk distance between trucks and physical obstacles at 10 of the most popular food truck spots downtown, including Foggy Bottom, Farragut Square and Metro Center. Eight of the locations, including Foggy Bottom, did not conform to the proposed rule, according to the findings. The only approved sites would be L Street and Metro Center.

If the Council passes the regulations, food trucks on campus could still operate from any legal parking space as long as they pay the parking meter, John Lisle, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, said.

The city plans to set aside specific vending areas for food trucks to run between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., he added.

“There’s no reason to think we’re going to hurt anyone’s business or make it harder for them to conduct business in the city,” Lisle said. “We’ll take a look at the comments, and then we’ll see what’s the best way to move forward.”

Food truck regulations have gotten stricter in the last year, updating the 30-year-old rules on mobile vending. Trucks started to charge a city-imposed 10 percent sales tax in October after local restaurants complained mobile vendors stole their business and evaded tax contribution. The city expects the tax to increase District revenue by $3.45 million over the next four years.

“I understand. It’s a tax – you can’t get around it,” Diaz said. “But it’s tough. Constantly, the regulations are changing.”

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