Jacksonville Food Trucks: New Legislation is Needed

September 5, 2014 59 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The proposed food truck legislation is being touted as a success. In this op-ed, Arash Kamiar writes why he thinks the legislation is a significant failure and outlines at least six policy initiatives food truckers should want to see implemented.

The legislation discussed below was enacted by city council.

After pondering the proposed food truck legislation for the last few weeks I’ve decided Jacksonville’s food truck industry is intent on slashing their own tires. Instead of pushing for a “gear changing” food truck policy to best serve the community, food truckers are obliging the interest of a few dozen people opposed to Jacksonville’s nascent street food industry.
Jacksonville brick and mortar restaurant owners are the main opponents of food trucks, and they have chutzpah, an admirable quality, and one that will set our city back a few more decades. They’re expecting our legislators to severely limit competition from food trucks. Confirming what most of us already know, many of downtown Jacksonville’s restaurants are mediocre at best (Quizno’s at worst) and will not be able to survive higher quality offerings.
Councilman Brown’s legislation further validates my feelings that our city’s leaders operate under a guild mentality, even though they think they are proponents of free commerce. Somehow, in this city, we’ve conflated protectionism with a free-market. We’ve redefined conservatism to mean only competition between existing businesses and industries. We’ve confused “invisible hand” to mean coercive legislation.
Let’s stop being a city of prohibitions and become a city of permissions. Let’s always seek to increase access and not limit it. Let’s start a permission-based culture of governing.

None of the above are incorporated into the recently proposed food truck legislation

Explaining the Current Legislation:

The proposed bill has one primary purpose:
“…to allow both the mobile food dispensing vendor [food trucks], and the established restaurant industry to co-exist without negative financial impact to the other…”  
Let’s take a moment to contemplate the ethics (and constitutionality?) behind a policy-maker deciding who or what gets to co-exist and who or what should not be “negatively financially impacted” by competition.
Keep thinking…the current legislation essentially bans food trucks from operating in proximity to brick and mortar restaurants or almost any place that the public interacts. Councilman Brown does not think brick and mortars should have to compete for your business. He thinks brick and mortars have an inherent right to define how you spend your lunch money.

The most recent iteration of 2014-0472, legislation on food trucks, proposes to add a section to Jacksonville’s municipal code, chapter 250, titled “miscellaneous business regulations.This is the section of the code that deals with street and sidewalk vendors, ice cream trucks, auctioneers…etc. Click on the link to see the code.
Most of the regulations placed on food trucks are similar to what a typical street vendor has to abide by, the codes placed on street vendors are very inhibiting already. Food trucks, though, are getting an extra layer of unnecessary, industry hurting regulation.

Initially, the wording in Brown’s policy was either badly or cleverly written. It was unclear whether food trucks were able to vend from all zoning districts except a “Commercial Neighborhood” (unless they had been issued a zoning exception) or if the only place food trucks could operate without a zoning exception was the Commercial Neighborhood.
This is the initial write-up of the policy that defined where food trucks could operate:
Vending areas. Mobile Food Dispensing vendors may vend food or nonalcoholic beverages from a mobile food dispensing vehicle in all zoning districts except the Commercial Neighborhood (CN) zoning district subject to the issuance of a zoning exception pursuant to the Zoning Code.

It has been clarified. The only place food trucks can operate without a zoning exception are the Commercial Neighborhood zoning districts.

Do you see those tiny purplish spots on the map? Those are the only places where food trucks are allowed to operate but they still have to follow the codes that define, for instance, how far away from a brick and mortar restaurant they have to locate.

Source: City of Jacksonville

Getting a zoning exception is not an easy or cheap task and food truck operators can’t actually apply for one even if they wanted to. The property owner, of where a food truck would want to locate, has to apply for the exception. Applying for an exception is a process that can easily cost thousands of dollars and take months to finalize.

The application for the zoning exception costs around $1,000. Plus, there are costs associated with the probable necessity of hiring an attorney and advertising that there is a public hearing on the exception (all zoning exceptions require a public hearing). Then, the property owner has to attend the meetings. It is a time consuming and costly process. Not easy and not one that many property owners will go through.
To reiterate, any location in which a food truck wants to park, outside of a Commercial Neighborhood, must go through a separate zoning approval process.

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